A Rad Artist
“I wanted to be part of addressing rampant misogyny as a parent and a woman and an educator.”
—Miriam Klein Stahl
A isn’t just for apple anymore. Thanks to artist Miriam Klein Stahl (B.A., ’92) and writer Kate Schatz, it’s for Angela — as in political activist Angela Davis. B, meanwhile, is for Billie (as in tennis icon Billie Jean King), and C is for Carol (as in beloved comedian Carol Burnett).
Stahl and Schatz brought a feminist spin to the classic alphabet book with Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History…and Our Future!. The first children’s book from legendary San Francisco publishing house City Lights, it features text by Schatz and powerful black-and-white paper cuts by Stahl. A New York Times bestseller, it inspired by a follow-up book called Rad Women Worldwide, which turns the spotlight on Japanese mountain climber Junko Tabei; Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades; teen punk Poly Styrene, the lead singer of X-Ray Spex; and Nazi resistor Sophie Scholl.
“I have a 9-year-old daughter, so I wanted to make books that would be inspiring to her,” says Stahl, who teaches art at the Arts and Humanities Academy, a small school at Berkeley High that she co-founded. “I had just read [author and SF State alum] Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, which is basically about rape culture. And at school, there was some horrible sexual harassment going on. So I wanted to be part of addressing rampant misogyny as a parent and a woman and an educator. I don’t really know how to do that, but I know how to make art.”
Boy, does she, says Mary Laird, who had Stahl and Stahl’s wife, artist Lena Wolff (MFA, ’03), in her book arts class at SF State.
“She did an astonishing book called Punks Aren’t That Well Adjusted,” Laird recalls, laughing. “It was bound in a tire, and it was absolutely fantastic. I remember it so well. She’s just a dynamo, and I’m sure she’s a great teacher. I was so lucky to have her in my class.
She just took to it like a fish to water. All I did was stand by and watch with awe.”
Stahl grew up in Los Angeles but, wanting to leave Southern California and come to a city with a vibrant art and culture scene, decided to give San Francisco a try in the late ’80s. She learned a lot from teachers like Laird, she says, and as an 18-year-old enjoyed being at a school with a diverse student body.
“I liked that all different kinds of people went there,” she says. “There was … a real range of people in the classes.”
When she started teaching at Berkeley High years later, Stahl drew on what she’d learned at SF State about setting up a studio and teaching students to work collaboratively. Her experience at the University also taught her to find her own path, embrace the freedom to explore…and deal with the occasional logistical challenge. She remembers her sculpture class meeting in a parking lot, for instance. And that, in retrospect, was just fine.
“It was a really scrappy existence, and I got a lot out of it,” she says. “It gave me a way of figuring out how to work anywhere. I just need a couple tools and a table and good light.”
Keeping Tabs on Iraq
“I think Iraqis are really resilient people. They’ve gone through so much, and they are trying to make their country work.”
Like many Americans, Joel Wing (B.A., ’92; M.A., ’94) began reading more about Iraq in 2002, during the buildup to the eventual war there. “I started googling ‘Iraq’ in the mornings and reading everything I could find, mostly all American and Western papers,” he remembers. “But it wasn’t until 2008 that I began the blog.”
Wing’s blog is Musings on Iraq (musingsoniraq.blogspot.com), and it has become such a comprehensive source of political, economic and cultural news that diplomats, CIA analysts, military leaders and refugee workers regularly consult the posts there. In addition to his blog, Wing has written about Iraq for various foreign policy websites, contributed a chapter on Iraqi parliamentary elections to the book Volatile Landscape: Iraq and its Insurgent Movements and has been interviewed numerous times for television, magazines and newspapers. It is no exaggeration to say that Wing — a government and economics teacher at Oakland Technical High School — has become a top expert in Iraqi affairs in his spare time.
“If it catches my interest, I decide to write about it,” Wing says. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been into research. I used to like one or two things, and I’d just want to know everything about it.”
The depth of Musings on Iraq reflects this voracious drive, containing posts on everything from military offensives to economic investments in Iraq to agricultural production in the countryside. Wing reads nearly 50 newspapers a day, including several Iraqi papers, and scours the web for other official reports for his posts. He doesn’t read Arabic but has become adept at using Google Translate to get the data he needs.
“My education at SF State really helped with this, because I learned about economics, I learned about foreign policy … that background really helped in doing research on Iraq,” Wing says. He recalls excellent mentoring and classes by Department of International Relations Professor Sanjoy Banerjee and Emeritus Professors Margaret Leahy and DeVere Pentony, among others. He focused on Latin America and U.S. foreign policy as an undergraduate, but wrote his master’s thesis on Islamic fundamentalism.
Wing also played in several bands during his college years, but his plan all along was to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become an educator. “In 12th grade I just decided that high school sucked and they needed good teachers, so I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. He received his teaching credential from Mills College, and has taught at Oakland Technical for 21 years. His students tend not be interested in his Iraq work, he admits, but their interest in politics was piqued by the 2016 presidential elections.
As American attention to Iraq has waned, Wing has had to dig deeper to find the critical information that fuels his blog. “When the Americans were there, you had all these American agencies working with the Iraq government, so you could get things like basic economic numbers. Now there’s a lot of stuff that you can’t get any more, because the Iraqi government is not transparent at all,” he explains. “Especially now that they’re at war with Islamic State, they’re actually reporting less and putting out more propaganda.”
Wing has never traveled to Iraq, turning down two chances to go (including an invitation to work for six months as an analyst at the U.S. Embassy). The travel didn’t fit with his teaching schedule, he says. The timing might line up to allow him a visit this summer, however.
“I think Iraqis are really resilient people. They’ve gone through so much, and they are trying to make their country work,” Wing says. “At the same time, the country has big problems that aren’t going to be overcome any time soon.”
For now, Wing doesn’t see a finish line for his own work on Iraq. “I have an obsessive personality,” he laughs. “I think I’m in it for the long haul.”
Art and Soul
When José Carlos Diaz (B.A., ’01) stepped into his new job last year with the Andy Warhol Museum, it was as if he had been preparing for such a role his whole life.
Childhood for Diaz, who was born in Miami and grew up in Stockton, California, was a happy blur of visits to local museums, after-school drawing lessons and summer art courses. By age 16, he had toured the Louvre and Sistine Chapel. In his 20s, he grabbed any art-world opportunity that came his way, never mind that unpaid internships and volunteer work didn’t pay the rent.
When he was unable to find a curator’s job, Diaz created one for himself. He transformed his apartment into an ersatz gallery of contemporary art, covering the walls with paintings by local artists and throwing the doors open to the public.
“That took off and I started getting press and I started getting attention and invitations to curate at retail stores and raw spaces like warehouses,” says Diaz, who studied art history at SF State. “It was all unpaid but it was a really fun time for me.”
Eventually, that initiative and resourcefulness helped Diaz turn pro. He held a number of positions at the Tate Liverpool museum in England, then served as curator of exhibitions for the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. And last May he landed a dream job: He was named the Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Andy Warhol Museum in the pop-art icon’s birthplace of Pittsburgh.
The museum is the global keeper of Warhol’s legacy. Its vast collection includes thousands of works created over a five-decade career that ended with the artist’s 1987 death at age 58.
“This is a really exciting place to be,” says Diaz, who studied under the prominent art historians Richard Mann and Whitney Chadwick at SF State. “We’re very lucky that Andy Warhol is more popular than ever and there’s a big demand for his work. But we’re not a museum about nostalgia or about the past. We’ve got a whole floor dedicated to contemporary living artists, so we’re very much a museum of the moment.”
Diaz is currently researching two areas that will form the basis of his first curated exhibits on Warhol: the artist’s faith and his sexuality.
“Those can really take you down a rabbit hole,” Diaz says. “But what we’re really good at here is going below the surface and digging deep into areas of Warhol’s life that still have yet to be explored. There’s a lot of discovering to do.”
Badge of Empowerment
It’s time-honored tradition for kids in scouting groups to earn badges signaling mastery of activities from archery to CPR. Tween girls in the alternative scouting troop led by Anayvette Martinez (attended ’05-’07) and Marilyn Hollinquest (M.A., ’08) pin badges on their vests representing something more radical: empowerment.
The Oakland-based scouts call themselves Radical Monarchs, and their badges celebrate social justice causes including “Radical Pride,” “Pachamama Justice” and “Radical Beauty” in honor of their commitment to LGBTQ acceptance, environmental justice and love of their roots and themselves.
“Right now they’re doing ‘radical coding,’” says Radical Monarchs cofounder Martinez. “They’re creating an app with a social justice message.”
Drawing on their backgrounds as community organizers and youth development specialists, Martinez and Hollinquest — who became friends as graduate students in the College of Ethnic Studies — formed Radical Monarchs with girls of color in mind.
The group got its start in late 2014 after Martinez’s then 10-year-old daughter, Lupita, asked to join a neighborhood Brownies troop. Martinez weighed whether a traditional scouting experience would be a good fit.
“My daughter has been raised in a really activist family,” says Martinez, whose family immigrated to the Bay Area from Nicaragua and El Salvador. “She’s been in marches since before she was born. We’ve always talked about racism, classism and sexism — all kinds of -isms. … I started looking at what would a girl scout troop look like where she could have a space with other girls of color where they could talk about these topics.”
Martinez and Hollinquest say for them and many women of color, such awareness doesn’t develop fully until college. They didn’t want Lupita and her friends to have to wait that long, so they hatched the Radical Monarchs.
The alumnae craft each Radical Monarchs study unit based on an educational theme that supports the organization’s mission: giving girls ages 8 to 12 opportunities to build sisterhood, strengthen their identities and act on their social justice convictions. They actively support Black Lives Matter and similar movements, join political demonstrations like the post-inauguration Women’s March and take field trips such as a recent outing to see the film “Hidden Figures,” which told the story of African American women mathematicians working for NASA.
Martinez credits her SF State experience with both shaping her career as a community organizer and advocate working in nonprofits and public schools and influencing how she and Hollinquest have developed the Monarchs curriculum.
“All the seminars I took and professors I met informed my consciousness and inspired my appetite for social justice,” she says. “It’s all connected with everything I do today.”
The group has received national and international attention from media outlets including Ms. Magazine, The Times of London, MSNBC and BuzzFeed. An award-winning documentary team is producing a feature film about the troop and has released a short film online (viewable at radicalbrowniesmovie.com).
Community requests to expand the Radical Monarchs have poured in, but its founders favor a strategic approach. They’ve added a second troop also based in Oakland, so they can nurture, support and replicate the program sustainably. “We want to do it right; we want to grow intentionally,” Martinez says.
Based on the experience of one charter member — Martinez’s daughter Lupita, now 12 — the Radical Monarchs are succeeding in their original objective.
“What I think she loves most is the camaraderie with other kids just as interested and passionate as she is in social justice movements,” Martinez says. “They get to see themselves reflected in this sisterhood and collectively feel powerful.”