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Photo exhibit pays tribute to peace movement

By Carole-Anne Elliott Special to the Daily Planet
Monday November 19, 2001

Hundreds of students surround the police car holding civil rights activist Jack Weinberg, one moment in a 36-hour protest on the UC Berkeley campus. 

A policeman marches a young, T-shirted antiwar protester down an Oakland street, his club forcing a grimace as it is grinds into the man’s throat. 

Three robust, naked women sculpt designs onto their mud-covered bodies, enjoying the freedom of a 1975 weekend campout. 

These scenes happened long ago, when the Bay Area was the combustible setting for a number of social protests in the 1960s and ’70s. But they have great resonance today, as the popularity of the Berkeley Art Center’s current exhibit, “The Whole World’s Watching,” demonstrates. 

The exhibit consists of 100 black and white photographs that chronicle everything from the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley to the Black Panther movement in Oakland to the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island. 

Robbin Henderson, the center’s executive director, estimates that 250 people a week have visited the tiny gallery since the show opened in September – many more than usual. And, she said, “our donations are much higher. People are putting fives in there instead of just ones.” 

Henderson attributes the exhibit’s success to two factors: the accessibility of photography as a medium, and the range of movements covered. 

Everyone can relate to a photograph, she said. “They don’t have to figure out anything.” 

But that doesn’t mean the photographs offer only quick, visual images. The first picture visitors see shows a handsome young man looking out peacefully from behind metal bars. It’s almost easy to miss that they’re jail bars, until you read the photo’s caption and learn that the man is Huey Newton. Newton founded the Black Panther movement, whose members armed themselves with rifles to deter police brutality. 

Finally, you might notice that Newton is offering a peace sign with his fingers. 

“A still image – you can look at it for hours,” Henderson said. “You can consider it; you can consider all different things about it.” 

The photographs are arranged in roughly chronological order, reminding visitors that movements built off of and drew inspiration from one another. The Free Speech Movement, for example, was born in 1964 when Weinberg was arrested on Sproul Plaza handing out leaflets advocating civil rights. 

Henderson said those viewing the exhibit are both older people who lived through the movements, and younger visitors learning about them for the first time. She described a group of black boys chaperoned by an older man. They “had the demeanor exactly of the Black Panthers,” she said, but quickly became “absolutely absorbed.” 

“They were looking not just at the Black Panthers,” Henderson said. “They were looking at the American Indian” section of the exhibit also. 

“It represents a lot of different kinds of people who can recognize themselves in these photographs,” she said. 

Joseph Lubow recognized himself right away. Active in both the civil rights and anti-war movements on the East Coast, Lubow drove up from Santa Cruz recently, a double purpose calling him to the exhibit. 

“On one level, it’s coming to learn the history of what my brothers and sisters were doing out here,” he said. But the relevance of the photographs to current events had him in tears. 

“I’m watching our government do a lot of what it did in the ’60s,” Lubow said, “and not looking for substantive answers to what happened on Sept. 11. In some ways this is a reminder of what we put our lives on the line for, and to watch our government do it again makes this even more powerful.” 

UC Berkeley senior Katie Feo was able to draw parallels between photographs on the Feminist Revolution and her work at an abortion clinic. 

“It’s cool to see pictures of when it was a new thing,” she said. 

Her classmate, Holly Haddock, was happy to see a photo of a young girl in a Black Panther school, and another of children taking part in the Black Panther “free breakfast” program. “Those images you don’t see,” she said. “Them caring for their own community.” 

The exhibit was three years in the making, Henderson said. Where the Berkeley Art Center ordinarily spends $5,000 to $7,000 on an exhibit, with another $5,000 to $7,000 on an accompanying catalog, it has shelled out more than $100,000 for “The Whole World’s Watching,” which Henderson hopes to make up in donations and sales of a 150-page catalog. 

After leaving Berkeley next month, the exhibit will tour venues throughout California until at least the beginning of 2004. Henderson looks forward to “a much higher profile in our little pond.” 


“The Whole World’s Watching” runs through December 16 at the Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut Street, Berkeley.