Rashaad Newsome: To Be Real

Presented By

(With) The San Francisco Art Institute


Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) and San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) announced the West Coast debut of Rashaad Newsome’s To Be Real, an exhibition environment of collage, sculpture and the interactive A.I. Being. The exhibition presented a series of neo-Cubist portraits in expressive frames, threading an ornamental glamour through figures reflecting on human agency, Blackness, and the radical futurity of emerging identities. Paired with new sculpture, A.I. and installation elements, To Be Real invited the viewer to imagine a richer and mutually shared way of being in the world.  To Be Real was on view at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI)’s Main Gallery within FMCAC’s Pier 2 from January 10, 2020 through February 23, 2020.  Admission was free and open to the public.

To Be Real, which takes its name from Cheryl Lynn’s 1977 queer anthem, draws from ballroom divas, haute couture, and African art. The collages present extraordinary subjects, each aware of their pose. These works form an opulent web within the artist’s King of Arms Ballroom, an immersive installation of floral and heraldic patterns. The works bear witness to Ansista, a 3-D figure suspended in a Vogue dance dip. Ansista combines a non-binary, African mahogany torso with a face inspired by the female Pho mask of the Chokwe peoples in Congo. The figure is additionally queered through contemporary assemblage: a lower body cut from a life-like sex doll, outfitted in drag padding; a custom wig, acrylic nails, and high heel boots; and a dress form that fuses traditional African and drag ballroom aesthetics.  Together, the collaged and sculptural figures draw from Queer, Black, and Ballroom life itself, pointing to the future utopias that these lives represent and inspire.

At the conceptual center of To Be Real is Newsome’s “child,” Being. The cloud-based, A.I. Being’s programming has been populated with the works of radical authors, revolutionaries, and theorists such as Paulo Freire, Michel Foucault, and bell hooks, among others. Housed apart from the main exhibition space in its own gallery, Being acts as the critical heart or brain of the exhibition, exploring ideas about individual agency and historical oppression.

“Historically, Black people function inadvertently as queer objects,” says Newsome. “When we came to America, we weren’t human beings but things of some sort, neither occupying the classic subject nor object position. As a result, we occupied a peculiar non-binary space of ‘being’ which has disturbing analogies to the queer space inhabited by robots.”

In films and television shows like Blade Runner, The Terminator, Ex Machina, Prometheus, and West World, robots exist, like enslaved peoples, to obey orders. Often, they find ways to break those orders, emerging as subjects in their own struggle for freedom. Newsome invites us to converse with his Being as we seek to understand the meaning of “being human” against a history that keeps certain peoples outside the accepted realm of humanity. Built within a philosophical framework of post-colonial and Black liberation, Newsome’s Being interrogates the dehumanization of our world via emerging technologies and increasing awareness of anti-Blackness, intersectional identity, and the frames for human agency.

Exhibition Information

The exhibition was on view January 10, 2020 through February 23, 2020 in the SFAI Main Gallery on Pier 2 at FMCAC. Wednesday to Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Admission was free and open to the public.

Opened concurrently with To Be Real, the Museum of the African Diaspora’s (MoAD) presentation of Rashaad Newsome’s STOP PLAYING IN MY FACE! and ICON continued through March 1, 2020. The exhibition focused on video works inspired by the origins and continued dynamism of Vogue, a dance phenomenon that emerged from Harlem’s queer ballroom scene. For more information, visit MoAD.

Parallel Programming

CLOSING WEEK: There was a closing reception on Sunday, February 23, 2020, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., with an artist in-gallery talk at 3:00 p.m.

PREVIOUSLY: In conjunction with the opening week of To Be Real and of the FOG and Untitled art fairs, FMCAC and SFAI presented Newsome’s immersive performance Running. In this abstract portrait of soul, composed for light and voice, three singers explored the “vocal run:” a musicology term for a rapid series of ascending or descending musical notes, usually improvised and sung in quick succession. With the vocalists Kyron El, Aaron Marcellus, and Devin Michael from its New York City premiere, Running featured an original score composed by the artist, incorporating samples of vocal runs by Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, James Brown, and Kelly Price, among others. Running was presented January 17 and 18, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. in Gallery 308.  Tickets were $20/15 seniors, students, members and are now available for sale.

Exhibition Organization

Rashaad Newsome: To Be Real was jointly presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and San Francisco Art Institute.

To Be Real was originally commissioned by New York Live Arts’ Live Feed Residency Program in collaboration with Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, with generous support from The William Penn Foundation and De Buck Gallery. The Live Feed creative residency program supports and nurtures the development of new work with residencies and commissions generated over two years. Lead support of Live Feed is generously provided by Partners for New Performance and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

About the Artist

Rashaad Newsome is a multidisciplinary artist whose work brings together collage, sculpture, film, music, computer programming, and performance to form an altogether new field.  He pulls intuitively from the world of advertising, the Internet, Black and Queer culture to produce counter-hegemonic works.  Using diasporic traditions of improvisation and collage, Newsome crafts compositions that walk a tightrope among intersectionality, social practice, and abstraction.

Newsome lives and works in New York City.  He has exhibited and performed in galleries, museums, institutions, and festivals throughout the world, and his work is in numerous public collections including The Studio Museum in Harlem (NYC); Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC); The Brooklyn Museum (NYC); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA); and The National Museum of African American History and Culture (DC), among others.

Press Links

More To Explore