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Triton Museum Kicks off 2020 with Solo Exhibits by Four Provocative Artists

The Triton Museum of Art, founded in 1965, is a gem that continues to sparkle as it uplifts Greater Bay Area artists. It opened its 2020 season with a reception Feb. 7 for solo exhibitors Renee Billingslea, Enrique Chagoya, Fan Lee Warren, and Jeff Alan West.

Renee Billingslea, a senior lecturer in Santa Clara University’s Department of Art and Art History, is a Caucasian woman with a heart for social justice. In her photo exhibit Ten Japanese-American Concentration Camps, on view through April 19, she reminds viewers of the displacement of Japanese Americans to relocation camps during WWII.

For two years, Billingslea traveled to the isolated sites of the 10 U.S. camps, photographing them as they are today. Then she superimposed on each large photo, a scaled-down, reproduction photo of the camp during WWII. A bowl of dirt from each camp (except one) accompanies the photos.

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“It’s important to remember the past,” Billingslea reminds viewers as they view both the past and present in each photograph.

Enrique Chagoya, a Stanford University professor of Art and Art History, is the most well-known of the four artists.

The large, bright and bold paintings in Chagoya’s exhibit Aliens, on view through April 19, portray immigration and cultural collisions with humor, juxtaposing secular, popular, and religious symbols.

“Humor is a way to survive difficult social circumstances,” he states. “[I use] familiar pop icons to create deceptively friendly points of entry for the discussion of complex issues.”

“I feel like I am a citizen of a borderless world,” says Chagoya, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the U.S. over 40 years. “I feel like I’m from everywhere and nowhere.”

In the color lithograph “Aliens Sans Frontieres” (2016), the artist portrays himself as six stereotypical people from Africa, Europe and the Americas.

“We all have genes from many different places,” he says. “I’m trying to denounce stereotypes with a smile.”

“My work is about how the past has influenced the present as well as the future,” says contemporary African American artist Fan Lee Warren, calling her art “stacked history.” “You can look through what’s happening now and see evidence of the past.”

Warren, who teaches at Laney Community College in Oakland, traveled by train with her family from Alabama to Chicago as part of the Great Migration, from 1915 to 1970, of southern Blacks escaping segregation.

In her exhibit Shifting Messages, on view through May 10, Warren’s mixed-media art portrays, for example, contemporary black children wandering aimlessly rather than actually playing, as in her memories of the past.

Recreations of his abstract digital art make up graphic artist and illustrator Jeff Alan West’s exhibit Spellings of Gravitas, on view through May 3.

West’s eye-catching paintings and prints — with his invented “world languages” character forms — result from combining traditional and digital art tools and techniques, giving him the best of both worlds. His art is a synthesis of fluid image making, regardless of media.

“How does this make you feel?” West would ask the viewer.

These four diverse yet complementary exhibits remind us not to take the Triton Museum of Art for granted just because it’s in our own backyard and offers so many freebies — free admission, parking, and hors d’oeuvres at opening receptions.

“We’re constantly looking for artists who have compelling things to say through their work,” says Triton Chief Curator Maria Esther Fernández.

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