in San Francisco, CA / United States
19.02.2022 - 16.04.2022 00:00
Jonathan Calm - Hands on the Wheel: African American (Auto)mobility in Space, Time and Mind

Rena Bransten Gallery is pleased to present our first solo exhibition with Bay Area-based artist Jonathan Calm. The images in this exhibit represent Calm’s ongoing project of exploring African American (Auto)mobility based on his documentation of sites listed in “The Negro Motorist Green Book” (1936-1966), the guidebook that referred travelers of color to safe and dignified accommodations during the final decades of the Jim Crow era. Calm’s perspective is both archival and imaginative, as he combines location and landscape photographs from across the country with carefully staged self-portraits, contextualized through historical reimagining.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 enhanced the risk factor around Calm’s cross-country travel, which led his approach to take a more introspective and personal turn. Inspired by stories from audience members of different age groups who attended presentations of his Green Book work, Calm has extended his spatial journey to an odyssey of time and mind. Rather than invoke a connotation of fear, “Hands on the Wheel” creates an empowering visual narrative that highlights continuity across generations of African American individuals and communities on the move.

Jonathan Calm is a visual artist in the media of photography and video, and assistant professor at Stanford University.

His earlier work focuses on the relationship between technologies of representation and urban architecture, and the powerful role of images in the way architectural constructs shape the lives of individuals and communities. His exploration of the socio-cultural, historical and geopolitical imprint of public housing on both sides of the Atlantic puts into perspective, questions and implodes the white utopian legacy of European Modernism to reveal hidden narratives and forgotten participants.

More recently, Calm has pointed his critical eye toward the representation of Black (auto)mobility, exposing how the mythical promise of a boundless journey across the land often masks a more compromised reality for African Americans. Through a varied array of media, he creates complex images of the Black American experience on the road as a precarious privilege rather than an inalienable right.

Calm’s art practice is international in scope and has been exhibited at prestigious venues around the world, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Tate Britain, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the ICA in Boston. His work has been reviewed in numerous publications, among which The New York Times, Art in America, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Artforum, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Calm was the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Larry Sultan Photography Award. The KQED Arts profile “Jonathan Calm Revisits ‘Green Book’ Locations in Search of America’s Past and Present” was nominated for a 2020 Northern California Area Emmy Award for Best Historic/Cultural-Feature/Segment.

Gallery hours Thu-Sat 12 – 4 pm, and by appointment


Rena Bransten Gallery
1275 Minnesota St. #210
94107 San Francisco, CA
United States


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