Visitors to CTRL+SHFT’s gallery space in West Oakland immediately notice a massive, vibrantly colored painting by Oakland-based artist Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo. Childlike confetti decorates the bottom half of the work — a stark rebuke to the heavy dark brown tones and urgent all-caps phrase on the top half of the piece: “IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER ALL THE RESISTANCE WORK FOLKS ARE DOING ALL OVER THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.”
The painting serves as a thematic centerpiece to “Double Dip,” CTRL+SHFT’s annual, members-only pop-up show and two-year anniversary celebration. Founded in 2015, the collective of women-identifying and nonbinary artists have spent the past two years providing space for underrepresented identities in the art world — namely, artists who identify as women, queer and trans folks, gender nonconforming folks, and people of color.
“There were a lot of members who felt that there were conversations around race, gender, and other political things that people wanted to explore as a group,” says Erica Molesworth, a founding member of the collective. “It came down to that: providing a space, providing a platform [that looked] at gender and racial inequalities in the art world and wanting to do something to remedy that.”
And so CTRL+SHFT’s founding members opened a space combining technical aspects of contemporary art — most of the group had just graduated with MFAs from CCA — with socially relevant dialogue and experimental elements that weren’t receiving representation elsewhere. Most recently, the gallery welcomed Oakland artist Yetunde Olagbaju for her solo show, give it to her when she’s decided she knew herself…, an multimedia installation that explored Olagbaju’s relationship with her Gullah/Geechee and Yoruba ancestry.
“The goal is to give people the space, and to let them do what they can’t do elsewhere — whether that is highlighting certain aspects of their identity or certain aspects of their practice,” shares Addy Rabinovitch, another longtime member. “We really want to hand the space over to people. We try not to take too heavy a curatorial hand, and try not to filter what people want to do while they’re here.”
In the last couple months, CTRL+SHFT appeared in danger of losing its space due to a substantial rent increase in the rapidly developing neighborhood. The group even launched a Kickstarter in mid-June in an effort to raise $15,000 to combat the rent increase and remain in their current space — a goal the members were ecstatic to see realized just last week. Being based in Oakland, the group has experienced firsthand how often members come and go — something Rabinovitch chalks up primarily to the financial difficulties of simply living in the Bay.
“I think being in Oakland… [there’s] this sense of urgency [of] being able to be a part of the community [and] seeing the changes that are happening,” Allison Chalco expresses. “I feel like CTRL+SHFT is a vital place when you’re removing yourself [from the outside world] and coming in here, while thinking about everything that’s happening right outside. There’s so much happening right now in Oakland, in San Francisco, the Bay Area. And being here for so long already, just seeing the women who are in the space now — it’s constantly changing.”
While a number of factors set the collective apart from others in the area (its broad range of critical practice and DIY style, its commitment to using the space as a platform for other artists rather than the members’ own work, and its non-hierarchal system, to name a few), what’s most noticeable about CTRL+SHFT is its supportive, feminine energy and environment — a rarity in the male-dominated field even today.
“There’s something that’s different about being around all women-identifying folks and making work, I think,” Jay Katelansky says. “Women in the arts don’t get the same recognition as men in the arts [to begin with], so we’re kind of [already] at this platform together. And because this collective focuses on work for queer [folks] and people of color, that adds another step that allows a welcoming space to make work.”
To Katelansky’s words, Maryam Yousif adds, “Maybe I’m generalizing, but… from my professional experience so far, it’s only been women helping me. There hasn’t been a manly situation where they’re offering me space, or they offer me shows.”
The artist pauses for a moment, glancing around the pink-accented gallery and flashing a smile at the CTRL+SHFT members present.
“It’s literally just been women,” she laughs. “That should be pretty telling.”
The CTRL+SHFT collective currently consists of Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Allison Chalco, Caroline Charuk, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Jessica Hubbard, Jay Katelansky, Em Meine, Erica Molesworth, Addy Rabinovitch, Megan Reed, Lindsay Tunkl, and Maryam Yousif.
For more, see CTRL+SHFT’s site.