The astronauts in David Huffman's paintings—the ones seen rescuing others, carrying and consoling the wounded or walking tightropes in the sky—are all Black. These are the “Traumanauts,” a title that Huffman says is appropriate for figures meant to symbolize the centuries of violence, abuse and mistreatment Black Americans have endured.
Dressed in spacesuits, the Traumanauts wander along the tops of clouds and pirouette in heavenly environs, but they also take time for Earthly pursuits, like shooting hoops and whipping donuts on the streets of Oakland.
Over the years, Huffman has exhibited his Traumanaut series in bits and pieces. MLK which depicts what appears to be a funeral procession, freedom march and mass exodus all at once, was a highlight of the Oakland Museum of California's recent exhibit, “Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism.” But the Museum of the African Diaspora's new exhibit on Huffman's series, "David Huffman: Terra Incognita," is the first time the full arc of the Traumanaut series has been assembled under a single roof.
The result: A stirring and intense show across several galleries, one of which has the life-sized Traumanaut suit and helmet that Huffman wore in his 2009 video, "Tree Hugger," which MoAD is also screening.
“Death isn't the only trauma there is; trauma can be embedded in isolation and separation,” Huffman told The Standard during the exhibit's press preview. “Slavery was a great rupture of Black culture that kept the continuity of life away from the people who enjoyed it, who lived it, and … created a situation of deep trauma.”
Based in Berkeley, Huffman created the bulk of his Traumanaut series from about 2005 to 2009, when he shifted his focus to abstract compositions. In 2014, SFMOMA purchased the last piece in Huffman's series, The Black Hole and a Traumanaut's Uncertain Journey.
The 2006 painting, Katrina, Katrina, Girl, You're on My Mind, a meditation on Hurricane Katrina from 2006, is on loan from the Arizona State University Art Museum serves as one of the centerpieces of the exhibit.
The MoAD exhibit also features a series of painted robotic figures with forced smiles, or as Huffman calls them, "trauma smiles."
"The robot comes from the stereotype of 'the happy darkie,'" Huffman explained.
As a child in Berkeley in the 1960s, Huffman witnessed major civil rights protests. He was inspired create the Traumanauts after drawing connections between the experience of being Black in America with NASA's space program. The series, Huffman said, asks questions like: Where am I? Where do I go?
“It's this idea of being new to a space and checking out the landscape. For me, the space program had that quality to it—the idea of landing on the moon and taking a step. Everything is about minutiae and nuance. . . . My thing is to find a range and a nuance."
— Jonathan Curiel
Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St.
Through Sept. 18, $6-$12
Feinstein’s at the Nikko
222 Mason St.
Thursday-Saturday, Mar. 31-Apr. 2
8 p.m. | $125+
Betty Buckley is indelibly linked to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Memories,” the show-stopping reverie that helped earn her first Tony Award in 1983 for her work in Cats. But she’s far more than a Broadway star. An acclaimed film and television actor and American Theater Hall of Fame inductee, Buckley is at her most enchanting as a jazz-informed cabaret singer who inhabits songs by Sondheim and Gershwin as if they were written for her. For many years she had an ideal foil in the brilliant jazz pianist Kenny Werner, but for her four-night run at Feinstein’s she’s teaming up with French-born Christian Jacob, an ace accompanist who’s toured and recorded extensively with jazz singer Tierney Sutton, earning half a dozen Grammy nominations along the way. (AG)
Black Cat, 400 Eddy St.
Thursday-Saturday, March 31-April 2, 7-11:30 p.m. | $25+
Kansas City alto saxophonist Logan Richardson has been making waves on the New York scene for the past two decades, but it wasn’t until his third album, 2015’s Shift, that he gained widespread national attention. Joined by guitar legend Pat Metheny and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran on piano, he more than held his own while supplying the all-star quintet with a set of intricate original tunes. For his three-night Black Cat run he plays with a cast of longtime colleagues, including guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Burniss Travis, keyboardist Jahari Stampley and drummer Charles Haynes. On Saturday, Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Keyon Herrald expands the band to a sextet. (AG)
Past Life Regression
Friday, April 1, Slumberland
After decamping to Los Angeles with most of his San Francisco janglepop peers, Jason Quever of Papercuts is back in the city where he and so many others of his cohort (Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh & Onlys, White Fence) built a nationally celebrated scene in the late-aughts and early 2010s. Composed and tracked mostly in the forced isolation of the pandemic, the album is a lush and intimate affair inspired by the likes of Spiritualized, Echo & The Bunnymen and Leonard Cohen. (NV)
Professor Seagull's, 1351 Grant Ave.
Friday, April 1 | Free
Professor Seagull’s bills itself as “America’s first smartshop.” The North Beach store sells nootropics, herbal remedies, live and dried botanical samples and “after-party care” essentials. To celebrate it’s grand opening, it’s throwing a party. Come to sample the sacred plants—such as Egyptian Blue Lotus and Wild Dagg—and stick around to ponder the psychedelic “fractal landscapes” of artist Ruby Ray. (CJC)
Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave.
Friday-Saturday, April 1-2, 7:30 p.m. | $99
It’s not the “End of the Road” for Grammy Award winning R&B group Boyz II Men. The iconic ’90s trio comes to Davies Symphony Hall for two nights of harmonizing with the San Francisco Symphony. Edwin Outwater conducts. (MM)
111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna St.
Friday, April 1, 7 p.m. | $15+
You know what’s messed up? Even though the proposals presented at the Pitches 2 Ritches Comedy Show are supposed to be laughable, doesn’t mean they’re without potential. Think about it: How many Silicon Valley unicorns got their start as patently absurd ideas. All it takes is someone with the confidence get up in front of a room full of people and spin a yarn. Comedians from Comedy Central, SF Sketchfest, The Punchline and more pitch their startup ideas for a chance to walk away with some cash. Think Shark Tank but with a lot more laughter! Two drink minimum with admission. (CJC)
Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd.
Friday, April 1, 5 p.m | Free
After a two-year hiatus, California’s largest weekly food truck event, Off the Grid, is back on the grid at Fort Mason. In addition to providing a picturesque setting for noshing on delicious comfort food, the event is known for helping to kick start some of the Bay Area’s most renowned restaurants. Expect over 25 food trucks, a full bar and live music. (MM)
Public Works, 161 Erie St.
Saturday, April 2, 9:30 p.m. | $20+
The wait is finally over. It’s been two years since the last Electroluxx night at Public Works, but this Saturday, the party takes over three stages at the Mission District club. Featuring DJs, live performances, a “makeout booth,” facepainting, tarot card readings and more. (CJC)
Pier 15 Embaracadero at Green St.
Saturday, April 2, 11 a.m| $19.95+
The Exploratorium honors the contributions of transgender individuals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). Saturday’s programming celebrates the “diversity of human expression” by exploring the cultural and scientific contexts of the transgender experience. Visitors can make their own custom pronoun button or strike a pose in front of the Gender Euphoria Wall, which invites participants to be their true selves in front of the camera. The Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) screens two short films about transgender, non-binary and Two-Spirit experiences and is followed by a conversation with select filmmakers from the showcase. All this, plus RuPaul Drag Race alum and San Francisco Democratic Party chair Honey Mahogany moderates a panel about trans visibility in STEAM with local engineers and scientists. (CJC)
Great American Music Hall 859 O’Farrell St.
Saturday, April 2, 9 p.m. | $20
Caroline Rose began her career as an alt-country artist, but her latest album, Superstar, squarely situates the singer-songwriter in the pop music camp. After rescheduling her planned 2020 visit to San Francisco, Rose finally makes her way to the city with the follow up to her 2018 album, Loner. The character-driven Superstar, described as a “cinematic pop record,” is a sequel of sorts following her fame-seeking “anti-hero” alter ego on a mission to land the role of a bug-eyed lobster. (CJC)
Save The Date: The Week Ahead
The Independent, 628 Divisadero St.
Monday-Tuesday, April 11-12, 8 p.m. | $26+
While Sons of Kemet started making waves on the London jazz scene a decade ago, the group staged its own British invasion in 2018 with the concept album Your Queen Is a Reptile, their major label debut. Led by tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings and propelled by tuba player Theon Cross and the dynamic drumming duo of Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, the Caribbean-inflected quartet delivers a torrential, celebratory and politically charged repertoire, deeply influenced by Jamaican sound system culture. After earning album of the year honors at the U.K.’s JazzFM Awards, the band received another benediction when Beyoncé prominently featured their track “My Queen is Harriet Tubman” on her Netflix concert film and documentary Homecoming. They follow their two-night stand at The Independent with a night at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center. (AG)
The Standard Staff can be reached at [email protected]