Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) New Exhibitions Expand Multiple Narratives
Harmonia Rosales’s Omega Alpha, The Decisive Moment in Photography, and Selections from the Permanent Collection
Moraga, California – Is it possible for a campus art museum to serve multiple audiences and demographics? Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) tackles this quest through the opening of three new exhibitions and the continuation of one on February 14, 2024. The new spring exhibitions bring forward several questions and centuries of art to facilitate a space of vast narratives and ideas.
ΩA Omega Alpha, featuring work by the Afro-Cuban artist Harmonia Rosales, marks the Northern California debut of Rosales’s Renaissance-inspired paintings. Rosales reimagines Western myths and Catholicism through the black body and the interwoven tales of the Lucumí religions.
The Decisive Moment: PhotoUrbanism in San Francisco Bay, 1930s–1960s brings together classic noir photographs from Pier 24’s collection that capture the region’s urban and social development over a 30-year span. Both of these exhibitions will be on display from February 14 through June 23, 2024.
Vignettes: Select Views of SMCMoA’s Permanent Collection, on view through May 12, features snapshot views into the museum’s vast repository of objects of cultural heritage, highlighting recent gifts and work from the founding William Keith collection. Continuing from December 2023, the exhibition Hold it Lightly features original serigraphs by the artist Lisa Congdon, who explores concepts of radical joy through graphic illustrations and hand lettering. The opening reception to celebrate these exhibitions will be held on February 15 from 5–7 p.m. at the museum at Saint Mary’s College of California’s campus location: 1928 St. Marys Rd, Moraga, Calif. The event is free and open to all.
“As a small liberal arts college museum, we strive to provide exhibitions that explore diverse experiences of human creation.”
“As a small liberal arts college museum, we strive to provide exhibitions that explore diverse experiences of human creation. Exhibiting these four bodies of work together provides an opportunity for our students, faculty, and the public to find and connect with an idea that challenges and inspires them,” states SMCMoA Executive Director Lauren MacDonald.
The new exhibitions occupy the three front galleries of the museum. The two rear galleries feature the continuing exhibition featuring work by Lisa Congdon. Vignettes, located in the Hearst Gallery, closes in early May to provide a space for the graduating art practice students to showcase their works. The Ramp gallery will support hands-on activities crafted by the museum's student apprentices and education assistants. Please visit the website for more programming and information.
ΩA Harmonia Rosales
Created by the Los Angeles-based artist Harmonia Rosales, ΩA Omega Alpha reimagines the imagery of the black body in Christian art. Rich in layers of oil, pigment, and gold, this refined selection of six paintings empowers lesser-known stories and subjects through the traditional canon of art history. Interweaving the oral histories and stories of Afro-Cuban religions, Rosales depicts figures that illuminate parallels in classical Western narratives while confronting the historical language of the Eurocentric male gaze. Rosales inverts the narrative of how faith and orthodox-based stories are told. In the diptych, Strangler Fig, Rosales portrays Adam and Eve standing with the fig tree between them as the roots merge over their feet. A tree that bears shape and form by strangling another host tree to make its fruit becomes the visual metaphor of manipulation, power, and control—drawing reference to the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade and the African diaspora. Making its first exhibition debut, Yemaya with Ibeji depicts the mother of the sea in Yorùbá religions as the Madonna in Christianity. Here, she holds albino Ibeji twins, symbolizing a single soul split into two, a balance in the physical world.
“Rosales's paintings seamlessly blend religious and cultural belief systems,” explains curator Britt Royer. “Her work challenges Western discourse yet pulls from these traditions to re-envision Greek heroes and Catholic saints. By intertwining the stories, histories, and beliefs of the African diaspora, Rosales casts visibility on Afro-Cuban heritage. It is an honor for Saint Mary’s College to host her debut in Northern California.”
“Her work challenges Western discourse yet pulls from these traditions to re-envision Greek heroes and Catholic saints. By intertwining the stories, histories, and beliefs of the African diaspora, Rosales casts visibility on Afro-Cuban heritage.”
Harmonia Rosales (b. 1984, United States)
Influenced by her multicultural Afro-Cuban background, Harmonia Rosales’s (b. 1984, Chicago) primary artistic concern focuses on Black female empowerment through a diasporic lens. Her work seamlessly entwines the oral narratives and deities of the West African Yorùbá religion, Greco-Roman mythology, and Christianity with the artistic techniques of the Renaissance masters.
For Rosales, reimagining hegemonic narratives preserves the memory of her ancestral lineage and functions to champion resilience and question Eurocentric notions of beauty. While her subjects serve as conduits for the internal struggles of a disempowered society, Rosales encourages her onlookers to possess more sympathy, empathy, and empowerment.
Her work has been shown in various group and solo exhibitions, including the recent traveling exhibition Harmonia Rosales Master Narrative (2023) at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Georgia; and Harmonia Rosales: Entwined (2022) at Art, Design & Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work is held in public institutions across the United States, including Rhode Island School of Design, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, AD&A Museum, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
The Decisive Moment: PhotoUrbanism in San Francisco Bay, 1930s-1960s
The Decisive Moment, an archive of the Bay Area’s social urban history, includes 26 photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch, John Gutmann, Pirkle Jones, Peter Stackpole, Brett Weston, and Max Yavno. Printed in black and white, these images represent historical turning points. From the construction of the Bay Bridge to Black Panther revolutionaries, they capture what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the ‘decisive moment’: a coalescence of the camera’s mechanical or ‘innate honesty’ with the observer's intuitive insight.
This exhibition is organized in collaboration with Pier 24 and the Pilara Family Foundation.
Vignettes: Select Views of SMCMoA’s Permanent Collection
Vignettes brings forward curated windows into the permanent collection explored through themes, eras, and art history. Highlighting recent gifts to the museum, this exhibition will include over 40 works of art across six installations. In addition to the legacy collection of landscapes by William Keith, featured works include modernist European prints by Georges Barque, Marc Chagall, Ursula Fookes, Kathë Kollwitz, Marie Laurencin, and Jacques Villon; California waterways by Armin Hansen, Louis LaBrie, Bertha Stringer Lee, Gotardo Piazzoni, Lundy Siegriest, and Mireille Piazzoni Wood; pop art by Corita Kent and Andy Warhol; Abstract Expressionism by Seong Moy and Ruth Wall; and contemporary art by Joe Doyle, David Maxim, Diane Rosenblum, and Kal Spelletich.
Hold it Lightly: Lisa Congdon
Illustrator and fine artist Lisa Congdon’s current body of work, Hold it Lightly, explores themes of joy, liberation, and radical inclusion. This collection of 57 serigraphs is displayed on printed matter featuring Congdon’s bold, colorful illustrations and hand lettering. Originally exhibited in conversation with the work of 1960s pop artist Corita Kent, Hold it Lightly reflects the profound personal impact of Kent’s legacy. This exhibition, which has been extended for several months, marks Congdon’s solo museum debut.
Lisa Congdon (b. 1968, United States)
Lisa Congdon is an internationally known fine artist, illustrator, and bestselling author. She makes art for clients around the globe, including Target, Amazon, Google, Schwinn, Madewell, Rumpl, The Library of Congress, Brooks Running, Warby Parker, Method, Comme des Garcons, REI, and MoMA, among many others. She is the author of ten books, including Art Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist and Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. She exhibits internationally, including solo shows at Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (California), Chefas Projects (Oregon), and Paradigm Gallery (Philadelphia), along with group shows at Hashimoto Contemporary in Los Angeles, Museum of Design Atlanta, and The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA)
Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is a landmark for art in Northern California, with a permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Inspired by its founder, Brother Cornelius Braeg, the museum cares for the nation’s most comprehensive collection of William Keith paintings. The museum offers educational and programming opportunities with rotating exhibitions twice a year for the College and the surrounding community. SMCMoA is located across the street from the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, California. Programs and admission are free for all. Public tours begin on Saturday, February 24 and will be offered Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Please contact Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art at 925-631-4379 or at email@example.com for further inquiries. More information can be found at stmarys-ca.edu/museum or by following us on social media @smcmoa.
About Saint Mary’s College of California
At Saint Mary’s College of California, we inspire minds, engage with the world, and create opportunities for students to find their lives transformed. With small class sizes and professors who know you by name, the Saint Mary’s experience empowers students to thrive—whether you’re an undergraduate or a professional looking for the next step in your career. Founded in 1863, the University is proud of our Lasallian heritage and how it fuels teaching and learning in an inclusive and wonderfully diverse community. More than 3,600 Gaels study on our Bay Area campus nestled in the rolling hills of Moraga, just 23 miles east of San Francisco. US News and World Report puts SMC among the top five regional universities in the West. You’ll also find Saint Mary’s highlighted in the guide Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges—the only Catholic college and the only university in California to make the list.