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Jessica Silverman presents David Huffman: Odyssey

January 13-February 25, 2023

Jessica Silverman has announced David Huffman: Odyssey, the Oakland artist's second solo exhibition at the gallery, which will run from January 13 through February 25, 2023.

The show includes paintings and works on paper from 2004 to 2009, many of which feature “Traumanauts”—Huffman’s Black astronauts traversing the political cosmos—against stark, abstract backgrounds. Huffman’s work, which combines formal abstraction with inquiries into social identity and ethnicity, invites the viewer to consider their own place among the tidal forces of civilization.

Huffman, who was born in Berkeley in 1963 and nurtured among revolutionaries, activists, and Black Panther Party members, is heavily impacted by radical praxis in his work as a painter, illustrator, and educator. His passion in art began at a young age, when he helped his mother, Dolores Davis, design the famous “Free Huey [Newton]” banner, which was widely used at protests and rallies at the time.

This cultivation of artistic expression in connection with the Black radical heritage has come to inform his association with Afrofuturism, which has manifested itself in the formation of his Traumanauts as persons emerging from the psychic rupture produced by slavery. Though the Traumanauts series is less well-known than his other works, it is fundamental to Huffman’s formal technique, employing acrylic, gesso, and glitter to create dramatic compositions depicting these figures’ journeys through memory, grief, and trauma.

Huffman’s passion of anime and science fiction shines through in works like Traumaeve 2 Battles Traumatanks (2009), which features a large-scale female “traumabot” fighter killing a sprinkling of tanks. Here, she strives for a brighter future for Blackness as a whole, as well as her personal self-doubt. In Intro to Dark Matter (2006), two characters float into a nothingness, contemplating a mysterious beauty filled with bursting stars. They are no longer “physical aliens,” as Octavia Butler once described them, but have reconnected with themselves as cosmic offspring.

The tallest sculpture in the show Make Love Not War (2006) stands nearly seven feet tall and spans three freestanding painted door panels depicting images of terrible strife. This work, created during the Bush presidency in 2006, recalls anti-Vietnam War action of the 1960s and 1970s, and alludes to the trapping imposed by governmental systems against the human urge for freedom and emancipation. On the opposite side of the sculpture, six Traumanauts carry various protest placards that read “WAGE PEACE NOT WAR,” “FREE THE HUMANS,” and “DON’T VOTE FOR WAR.”

Another piece, The Seeker (2005), depicts a solitary Traumanaut floating amid a whirling galaxy. Traumanauts are always in transit in the framework of the Black diasporic experience, looking for home and the means to get there. Despite the uncertainties, Huffman’s figures are continuously exploring uncharted territory, wanting nothing less than new planets, worlds, and ways of discovering themselves.

About the artist
David Huffman (b. 1963, Berkeley, CA) has work in the collections of SFMOMA, San Francisco; LACMA, Los Angeles; Berkeley Art Museum, CA; Studio Museum, Harlem; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Oakland Museum of California; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; San José Museum of Art, CA; Palo Alto Art Center, CA; Eileen Norton Collection, Los Angeles; Birmingham Museum of Art, AL; Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN, Arkansas Art Center; ASU Art Museum, Tempe, AZ; Lodeveans Collection, London; and the Embassy of the United States of America, Dakar, Senegal, among others. Huffman enjoyed a recent solo exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco and has been included in recent group exhibitions at the de Young Museum, San Francisco; Weatherspoon Museum of Art, NC; and The Wright Museum, MI. He is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies including the Eureka Fellowship, ARTADIA San Francisco, Palo Alto Public Arts Commission, and the Barclay Simpson Award. He studied at the New York Studio School and received his MFA at California College of the Arts & Crafts, San Francisco. Huffman lives and works in Oakland, CA; he is currently on the board at SFMOMA.