California is an elusive dream but also a cruel illusion. It is both the Golden State and the “plundered province,” a place of beauty and brutality, sanctuary and exclusion. Lands of Promise and Peril: Geographies of California explores the material places and social spaces that have created both astonishing prosperity and intractable inequality in the state. It focuses on the peculiarities of place and the experiences of ordinary people, while also considering how broader forces—environmental degradation and preservation, industrial innovation and exploitation, urban expansion and segregation, and cultural oppression and activism—shape opportunities and injustices in everyday life.
Curated by UC Berkeley students, Lands of Promise and Peril depicts 180 years of continuity and change in California with paintings, photographs, maps, works on paper, and sculpture drawn from the collections and archives of BAMPFA and the Bancroft Library. Works by Ruth-Marion Baruch, Glen E. Friedman, John Haley, Pirkle Jones, Dorothea Lange, Joanne Leonard, Richard Misrach, Chiura Obata, and Brian D. Tripp represent the diversity of California, but also raise questions about what is absent or invisible in the museum collections. Rather than focusing solely on individual artists, however, the installation is structured by themes in environmental, economic, urban, and cultural geography.
The theme of migration, the lifeblood of the state, also flows through the exhibition, helping foreground both the creation and the contestation of racialized injustices. In this way, the exhibition honors California’s greatest promise—the capacity to challenge inequality—and helps us contemplate the state of our future.
This is the fourth in a series of annual exhibitions, Cal Conversations, developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley classes.