Omca’s ‘Hella Feminist’ exhibition explores the complexity of contemporary feminism

By JL Odom

Equality, reproductive rights, division of labor, women’s health, racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, violence against women: contemporary feminism embraces these issues and more. Today, feminism undoubtedly covers a lot of ground in its quest to improve the social, political and economic status and conditions of women.

Three curators from the Oakland Museum of California have put together an exhibit that encourages visitors to consider the intricacies of feminism today – as well as their personal connections to the subject. The result of their years of work on the project is “Hella Feminist,” which opens this Friday in the OMCA’s Great Hall gallery. This is notably the museum’s first exhibition to focus explicitly on feminism.

According to Carin Adams, co-curator of “Hella Feminist,” “The show itself really examines the holistic ways in which women and others have developed strategies to uplift each other in the face of oppressive patriarchal systems.”


Adams, alongside co-curators Erendina Delgadillo and Lisa Silberstein, thought long and hard about the exhibit’s components, ultimately deciding to organize it into three sections: “Mind”, “Body” and “Spirit”.

Within each of these sections are various objects and types of art, including textiles, digital collages, posters, pins, works on paper, paintings, and photographs. “Hella Feminist” also features artwork created specifically for the exhibition, such as the “Spirit” section “Museoexclusion Exorcism,” created by Los Angeles artist Tanya AguiNiga.

As Adams shares, “It’s a major sculpture that has contributions from about 29 different people, and it’s a very large woven textile that’s monumental – it’s amazing.”

While some pieces date from the 21st century, others date from the 1800s and 1900s. The curators themselves selected many of the historical objects in the exhibit, drawn from the OMCA’s extensive collection.

Silberstein shares, “We really looked at what the museum had. And, honestly, that was one of the interesting parts of this project. … The museum hasn’t focused in its past on collecting things which are necessarily as what today we would call ‘feminist.’ So for us, we’re kind of looking at those things from the past and thinking about how they can be reinterpreted in this moment where we find ourselves in this moment.”

The title of the exhibit itself – with the incorporation of the common Bay Area slang term “hella” – declares its local ties. The stories featured in “Hella Feminist” are primarily based in the East Bay and, specifically, Oakland. The majority of the artists featured in the exhibition and the people they have collaborated with are local or have local connections.

As Delgadillo confirms, “it’s a very East Bay-centric exhibit, with a few exceptions.”

‘Hella Feminist’, in its reflection on intersectionality and ‘everyday feminism’, also features interactive elements, such as a hotline visitors can use to listen to the stories of others – and share their own – related bodily autonomy legislation.

Adams comments: “We intended to provide opportunities for people in response to all this new legislation and how heavy this moment is, as a sort of emotional release or at least to help process some of that, which is a key component of the holistic wellness that feminism — especially this contemporary iteration of feminism — focuses on.”

The exhibition was supposed to open in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. During the delay, Adams, Delgadillo, and Silberstein found themselves having to think more about the components of “Hella Feminist,” given how much has happened on the feminist front in the span of two years.

Says Silberstein, “It’s interesting, because our intention for this show was for it to be about contemporary feminism — the moment we’re living in. And then when COVID hit, and we couldn’t present the show, we had to rethink what we’re showing. … And so we’ve added elements into the show that respond, in a way, to what’s going on right now.”

The curators of “Hella Feminist” express that what they have put together for the OMCA’s feminist-focused inaugural exhibition is not the end or the last word on the subject. They point out that the exhibit stems from their ideas about feminism and that there are many other ways to approach it.

As Delgadillo notes, “It’s not an attempt to define feminism – it’s not some sort of definitive exploration. … People are really emotionally invested, in my experience, in their own version of feminism. And so I think it’s an opportunity to invite everyone into this conversation rather than offering some sort of final definition of what that means.”

Adams adds, “It’s less a definition than a simple response – and, in a way, an invitation, a provocation – to connect around the complexity of contemporary feminism right now.”

And it’s super relevant.

“Hella Feminist” runs Friday through January 8, 2023, at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays. Masks are mandatory inside for all visitors aged 2 and over. Adult tickets for the special exhibit are $25. For tickets and more information, visit https://museumca.org/.

Copyright © 2022 Bay City News, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication, rebroadcasting or redistribution without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. Bay City News is a 24/7 news service covering the Greater Bay Area.

Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

Comments are closed.