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New ‘West is South’ exhibition explores direction and acceptance

Courtesy Art

“West Is South,” The Atkinson Gallery’s first exhibition of the year, is an introspective show reflecting on what it means to belong. 

Featuring art from Jane Mulfinger, an art professor at UCSB, the exhibition ties in themes from Southern California, specifically looking at the orientation of Santa Barbara and how it lies on the coast. 

“To me, this piece is an effort to get to know this place better,” Mulfinger said. 

She explained that despite living in Santa Barbara, she never felt a strong sense of belonging. 

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To get in touch with the city, Mulfinger walked for miles in each cardinal direction and took a boat when the ocean got in her way. The exhibition features footage from these walks, tracking her routes as she explored. 

The gallery features a motif of the compass rose, resembling the one located at the end of Stearns Wharf. The compasses play off the idea of disorientation.

When one looks out at the Pacific ocean, they are presumably looking west. Mulfinger explained that because of Santa Barbara’s unique location on the coast, anyone looking towards the ocean is facing south. 

Further looking at the geography of Santa Barbara, Mulfinger emphasized the tectonic plates that the city lies on. What once lay in the geographical location of Mexico now lies under our feet.

“It’s poetic to think about belonging in relation to migration,” Mulfinger said. 

The exhibition features responses from an anonymous survey that asks respondents to describe what it means to belong. 

Replies to the survey are projected onto the gallery walls and plastered on flags of varying heights around the exhibit. 

The survey can be found on the gallery’s website and is available to be answered by anyone anonymously. 

“Anonymity is the goal,” Mulfinger said. Keeping responses anonymous allows people to be open and honest without fear of persecution or judgment.  

“West Is South” offers a unique opportunity for gallery-goers to face the feelings of discomfort and not belonging, even in a place considered home. 

“It’s an engagement of senses,” Mulfinger said about the exhibit. 

“Everybody can relate to that feeling of disorientation,” said John Connelly, director of the Atkinson Gallery.  

Mulfinger said she expects the event to be ever-changing, and promised the addition of new elements throughout its run.

The exhibition is supported by a Community Arts Grant from the City of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture.

The Atkinson Gallery will be hosting an opening reception of “West Is South” Oct. 4 in the Humanities Building Room 202. The exhibition will be running until the end of the fall semester, Dec 6. 

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