Laguna Peralta Eighteen Gallery Copenhagen

Laguna Peralta, the jewel of Oakland, the lake of a thousand smells, a hunting ground for the Ohlone, the indigenous people of the earth. It was once called Lake Merritt, named after Mayor Samuel Merritt, who turned the lagoon into a lake and the surrounding land into prime real estate. In order to avoid stray bullets from local hunters, Merritt managed to convert the lake into America’s first wildlife refuge in 1870 so that no one would be accidentally shot while resting on his porch or playing in the beautiful nature surrounding the lake.

Cut off from the sea however, the new lake became polluted and was eventually nicknamed “the lake of a thousand smells” by the locals. Other preservation efforts followed. Once reconnected to the sea, wild salmon returned and birds from all over the world visited their migratory paths. Although it is a public space, and in principle accessible to everyone, questions and conversations regarding gentrification, race, preservation and property still surround the jewel of Oakland (1).

“With references to the past, present and potential future, the work in this exhibition is a kind of love and thank you letter to Laguna Peralta, more commonly known as Lake Meritt, the jewel of Oakland, California,” says Muzae Sesay. “This is a space that I would consider the center of leisure and social engagement of the city.

There, every day, one would find a sample of the subcultures that define such a diverse region. At the lakeside, as in the paintings, a dynamism crosses the weight of troubled times. So let’s walk an evening tour around the lake. See how people come together and recognize life. Listen to the sounds of the Bay area’s daily movement.”

This story of continuous transformation is the starting point of Muzae Sesay’s anthropologically inclined exhibition. Over the past year, Sesay has spent time around the lake, observing, being, participating, photographing, lingering, drawing, relaxing, laughing, snacking and creating audio recordings in the field. He walked laps around the perimeter of the park from sunrise to sunset, half loiterer, half adventurer and local resident, enjoying moments of leisure and reflection in a period of recent times isolation.

Sesay’s respite turned into an interest in the relationship between the particular and the universal, recognizing that belonging is both meta body and an embodied state. Laguna Peralta transplants this state to Copenhagen, Denmark. Through six large paintings, a sound piece composed of a 57-minute field recording of Sesay making a loop of the park, the exhibition presents a living investigation, interpretation and translation of the experience, history and potential of a place: fragmented, curious, close, abstract, present and always in motion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.