In November of 2018, California’s Conejo Valley region was left reeling from two back-to-back calamities: a deadly mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill on November 7, followed by the devastating Woolsey wildfire on November 8. The events claimed lives, forced thousands to evacuate their homes and left a community grief-stricken. Now almost a year after the “twin tragedies,” artists of international and national renown will recall the community’s strength, compassion and connection through a powerful group exhibition opening October 18, 2019, at the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO).
“Empathy: Beneath the Surface” presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on the idea of empathy and personal agency. Comprised of six distinct galleries covering more than 5,000-square feet, the exhibition centers around universal themes of loss, resilience and hope. Museum visitors will encounter large-scale representational paintings, contemporary sculpture, mixed media, installation, a blue-chip virtual reality film, cinematic photography and stunning modern tapestries, navigating through each artist’s personal narrative while experiencing a collective expression of empathy and connection.
On view through February 16, 2020, “Empathy: Beneath the Surface” features seven highly diverse and distinguished contemporary artists:
- Hung Liu, one of the most prominent Chinese American artists working in the United States today. Liu’s art explores themes of memory, history, endurance and cultural identity through works that navigate the life-long experiences of immigration and homecoming. Trained as a socialist realist painter and muralist in her native China, she lived through the Mao regime and personally experienced the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, she worked in the fields for four years, while clandestinely making photographs and drawings of what she saw there. Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and are in the collections of SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, among others. Liu is a professor emeritus in the art department at Mills College.
- Fine art photographer Marjorie Salvaterra, whose cinematic, black and white depictions of women combine glamour, humor and the mundane to make powerful statements about the roles women are expected to play and how they cope. Her highly acclaimed monograph, HER: Meditations on Being Female, traces the psychology of age and gender while challenging notions of femininity and perfectionism. Salvaterra’s solo exhibitions include The Griffin Museum of Photography, JDC Fine Art (San Diego), Clark-Oshin Gallery (Los Angeles) and Month of Photography (Los Angeles). She was named one of LensCulture’s top 50 Emerging Artists.
- Multi-disciplinary artist, curator and Building Bridges International Art Foundation co-founder Marisa Caichiolo, whose visual work encompasses video art installation, painting and sculpture. A native of Argentina, Caichiolo explores the problems and complexities of identity through the construction of symbolic worlds, often using the human body, clothing and skin as metaphors. Her works have been showcased internationally in Brazil, Mexico, France, Spain, Japan, Korea, China and Argentina as well as nationally in New York and Los Angeles.
- South African-born painter and sculptor, Simphiwe Ndzube, whose large-scale, mixed-media collages address life in post-apartheid South Africa but carry the universal relevancy of resilience and hope. Ndzube’s work is characterized by a fundamental interplay between objects, media and two-dimensional surfaces, stitching together a subjective account of black experience through representations inspired by the Zulu working class dance tradition of “swenking”. His solo exhibitions include Galeria Nicodim (Bucharest), Stevenson Gallery (Cape Town) Nicodim Gallery (Los Angeles), CC Foundation (Shanghai), and Museo Kaluz (Mexico City). He is the winner of the prestigious Tollman Award for the Visual Arts and was named one of the rising Los Angeles Artists to Watch in 2019.
- American painter and tapestry designer, John Nava, whose seminal series of tapestry panels, “The Communion of Saints,” grace the interior of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. In his Neo-Icons series, politically charged portraits speak on the freedom of expression, personal agency and the empathic message of being heard. Nava’s work is found in numerous private, corporate and public collections throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, including the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Hawaii, and the Triton Museum in San Jose, California.
- American filmmaker and National Geographic magazine photographer, Ami Vitale, who has traveled to more than 100 countries to witness and photograph civil unrest and violence in addition to capturing the beauty and enduring power of the human spirit. She will exhibit photos and a virtual reality (VR) film that will transport museum visitors to Africa to meet a community that is dedicated to saving a herd of orphaned baby elephants. Vitale is a five-time recipient of World Press Photos, including First Prize for her 2017 National Geographic Magazine story about elephants and First Prize for her work with giant pandas. She is a founding member of Ripple Effect Images, a collective of scientists, writers, photographers and filmmakers with a mission of creating powerful stories illustrating the very specific issues women in developing countries face.
- Fine artist, Tom Everhart, whose larger-than-life paintings straddle the line between the comfortably familiar and a new way of seeing. As the only artist allowed to use the Peanuts™ characters in his art, Everhart utilizes the instantly recognizable image of Snoopy to communicate a new sensibility – one that is at once accessible and exotic. His limited-edition print program has been popular in North America and Asia since the mid-eighties, and Everhart’s paintings on canvas have been exhibited in Museums and galleries worldwide, including the Louvre (Paris, France), Museu da Cidade (Lisbon, Portugal), Suntory Museum (Osaka, Japan), and the Charles M. Schulz Museum (Santa Rosa, CA).
Curated by CMATO Senior Curator, Lynn Farrand, the exhibition will be accompanied by a range of public and scholarly programs, including artist talks and a participatory space featuring a 3D film of an elephant sanctuary by Ami Vitale.
Nearly a year after the mass shooting and wildfire, Farrand believes the theme of the exhibition is more timely than ever.
“It is imperative to discuss empathy and for us to remain connected as a community, particularly as we mark the one-year anniversary of the Borderline shooting and the Woolsey wildfire,” said Farrand. “In these artists, we see an empathic, conscious choice to go beneath the surface of what separates us to reveal the universal experiences and emotions that bind us together.”
“Empathy: Beneath the Surface” is generously sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation, Karen Dean Fritts, Ph.D., and John Shwope, Mark Sand Construction, Thor Electric, Valdez Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors and Macerich.
CMATO is located on the second floor of The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks and is open Thursday (3:00pm – 7:00pm) and Friday through Sunday from 12:00pm to 7:00 pm. A $6 donation is suggested.