Current Exhibitions

The Black Index

May 1-August 14, 2021

 Mugshot portrait of Alberta James by Lava Thomas

Lava Thomas, Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Alberta J. James, 2018, Graphite and Conté pencil on paper, 47 x 33 ¼ inches, Collection of Doree Friedman


The Palo Alto Art Center is pleased to present The Black Index, a group exhibition featuring the work of Dennis Delgado, Alicia Henry, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Titus Kaphar, Whitfield Lovell, and Lava Thomas.

The artists featured in The Black Index build upon the tradition of Black self representation as an antidote to colonialist images. Using drawing, performance, printmaking, sculpture, and digital technology to transform the recorded image, these artists question our reliance on photography as a privileged source for documentary objectivity and understanding. Their works offer an alternative practice—a Black index—that still serves as a finding aid for information about Black subjects, but also challenges viewers’ desire for classification.

The works in The Black Index make viewers aware of their own expectations of Black figuration by interrupting traditional epistemologies of portraiture through unexpected and unconventional depictions. These works image the Black body through a conceptual lens that acknowledges the legacy of Black containment that is always present in viewing strategies. The approaches used by Delgado, Henry, Hinkle, Kaphar, Lovell, and Thomas suggest understandings of Blackness and the racial terms of our neo-liberal condition that counter legal and popular interpretations and, in turn, offer a paradigmatic shift within Black visual culture.

The Black Index is curated by Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor, Department of African American Studies and the Department of Art History, University of California, Irvine. Exhibition and tour organized by Sarah Watson, Chief Curator, Hunter College Art Galleries, New York in collaboration with the University Art Galleries at UC Irvine, Palo Alto Art Center, and Art Galleries at Black Studies, University of Texas at Austin.

Lead support for The Black Index is provided by The Ford Foundation with additional support by UCI Confronting Extremism Program, Getty Research Institute, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Carol and Arthur Goldberg, Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, Leubsdorf Fund at Hunter College, Joan Lazarus Fellowship program at Hunter College, Pamela and David Hornik, Loren and Mike Gordon, University of California Office of the President Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiative Funding, University of California Humanities Research Institute, Applied Materials Foundation, Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative, UCI Humanities Center, Department of African American Studies, Department of Art History, The Reparations Project, and the UC Irvine Black Alumni Chapter. This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit


  • Friday, April 30, 2021--6:15 p.m.--Friday Night at the Art Center  Celebrate the premiere of The Black Index at the Palo Alto Art Center with a virtual walkthrough by exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks, a special reading of The Black Index essay by actor and theatre professor Aldo Billingslea, a redaction poetry activity with playwright Leelee Jackson, and a concluding presentation by Palo Alto author Julie Lythcott-Haims. See the recording.
  • Sunday, May 16, 2021--2 p.m.--Teen Workshop  Explore The Black Index exhibition through this workshop designed especially for teens. Meet the exhibition curator, Bridget R. Cooks and hear about her vision for the show. Artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle will introduce her work in a slide presentation, showcasing her performative drawing process. Then, join playwright Leelee Jackson as she leads a looking and writing activity, performing some of the resulting works with actors invited especially for the workshop. Register here. 

  • Friday, June 4, 2021--5 p.m.--Conversation with Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Lava Thomas  Join us for a special conversation with the two Bay Area artists included in The Black Index. Exhibition curator Bridget R. Cooks will lead a conversation between artists Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Lava Thomas about their work, The Black Index exhibition, and the role of artistic representation in acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating Black women. Register here. 

Additional programs are being finalized. Check here for more updates.

Youth Art

May 1-May 22, 2021

The Art Center's annual showcase of youth creativity returns to the Art Center this spring! This exhibition will feature work by high school advance placement art students in Palo Alto Unified School District. 

The Butterfly Effect: Migration is Beautiful

Through June 2021

Butterfly Effect: Migration is Beautiful is a community project initiated in 2017 by Lillian Ellis and Kaia Marbin, two youth activists in the Bay Area, who wanted to create a visual representation of the increasing number of migrant children currently in detention along the US border. To promote awareness and in hopes of preventing further child detention, they chose the butterfly as a symbol to make a statement that, like the Monarchs that migrate between California and Mexico every year, migration is beautiful. In the last three years they have led the creation of more than 50,000 butterflies with a goal of creating a total of 76,020, the number of children who were detained at the border. Butterflies are being created and displayed in public institutions like libraries, schools, and city halls across the US. 


To learn more about our upcoming exhibitions, view our Advanced Exhibition Schedule.