Karaoke, Ube Reign At Art Exhibition Tribute to Pop Legend Prince

 “After Pop Life” exhibition features Prince-inspired works by over 30 contemporary artists. (Photo: © Gregory G. Geiger)

“After Pop Life” exhibition features Prince-inspired works by over 30 contemporary artists. (Photo: © Gregory G. Geiger)

Visitors wandering into the "After Pop Life” art exhibition will see a cryptic lighted sign hanging above the introductory wall text at this show, honoring the late music legend Prince and featuring over 30 contemporary artists at San Francisco’s Minnesota Street Project. Spelling out three letters U-B-E in purple neon, the sign reads to the non-initiated as some kind of metaphysical rap message — like U Be Cool. Filipinos understand it immediately — UBE is the purple yam and star ingredient of the best Filipino desserts: ube haleya, ube puto and the perennial favorite, ube ice cream. As orange (the fruit) is to orange (the color), so ube is to purple, the epitome of the hue. Prince, of Purple Rain and When Doves Cry fame, owns purple and his untimely death last April has left millions still mourning.

Prince has Filipino roots, or so we like to imagine, citing articles in the British media that claim that Prince’s black father, John Lewis Nelson, a jazz musician whose stage name was Prince Rogers, was of "Italian-Filipino heritage." Absurd proofs are given for his “Filipino-ness” (see also Emil Guillermo’s article in the Inquirer): Prince is short, he sings, he loves basketball, he includes the Our Father in the lyrics of his songs (Controversy) — he must be Filipino!

"UBE” is the work of O.M. France Viana, a FilAm artist who uses Filipino foods as her subject and medium. "The lowly ube has such a precious, deep, distinctive hue; it is practically our national color and deserves to be celebrated, to have its name in lights, like a rock star." A second work, "Drool: Ube" a photograph veiled with tulle fabric embroidered with crosses (a symbol on Prince's Controversy album cover) hypes up sensuality, making a lick of ube ice cream seem almost lascivious. Drooling purple is not only mandatory when it comes to Prince, it is also a story with mythic roots, France reveals, "Hercules' dog is credited with discovering the color purple when it bit into a murex shell on a beach and Hercules noted the peculiar color dripping from its mouth."

 O.M. France’s neon “UBE” (Photo: © O.M.France)

O.M. France’s neon “UBE” (Photo: © O.M.France)

 Photo 3. Curator Glen Helfand contemplates O.M. France’s interactive piece, “Drool: Ube.” (Photo: © Gregory G. Geiger)

Photo 3. Curator Glen Helfand contemplates O.M. France’s interactive piece, “Drool: Ube.” (Photo: © Gregory G. Geiger)

Another participating  FilAm is Jenifer Wofford, a San Francisco-based artist and educator (she teaches Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco and Art Practice at UC Berkeley) whose work plays with notions of hybridity, authenticity and global culture, often with a humorous bent. She is also 1/3 of the Filipina American performance artist trio Mail Order Brides/M.O.B.   Her installation at the Prince show, "Dearly Beloved: A Karaoke Chapel" transforms the adjoining media room into a "chapel" with white benches and lectern and lyrics projected onto three walls in a disco-like setting.  Wofford assembled a collection of karaoke videos of Prince songs and created a suite of new videos of her own. The instructions alone are already funny: "Celebrants can select the song of their choice from the Karaoke Hymnal, and perform for other acolytes."

 The media room is transformed for Jennifer Wofford’s popular installation: “Dearly Beloved: A Karaoke Chapel” (Photo: © Jenifer Wofford)

The media room is transformed for Jennifer Wofford’s popular installation: “Dearly Beloved: A Karaoke Chapel” (Photo: © Jenifer Wofford)

"I wanted to create a space where visitors could engage with the music and spirit of Prince in a highly participatory, immersive way," Wofford offered. "Since Prince inspired such fervor in his fans, and was highly spiritual himself, it seemed appropriate to transform the room into an intimate, sacred, but ultimately playful, chapel-like space for song. The space has been both celebratory and cathartic thus far: visitors have been singing, dancing, laughing and even crying in the Karaoke Chapel."  The crowd mobbed the chapel during opening night and the crooning and gyrating faithful had a most unholy time.

Critic and curator Glen Helfand organized the exhibition and says that it "honors the pervasiveness of Prince’s legacy and how his prodigious musical output and indelible personal style seem more alive than ever. The passion felt for Prince, not to mention his highly defined visual aesthetic—and all that purple—make him such a compelling, inspiring figure. His presence brings up so many issues, big topics like sexuality, race, and belief, but his work also offers such unfettered pleasure. Prince brings so many people together. I was so struck to find out just the incredible range of artists who were so deeply affected by his passing.”

If you are feeling Purple pain, don't leave yourself standing, in a world so cold (sic), instead head over to the exhibition at 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco to view the art and sing your heart out. A highly anticipated closing party on Oct. 1, 2016, featuring a Prince-inspired fashion show by Bonanza, promises to be the super glam art event of the season and is free and open to the public.  For more information visit the Minnesota Street Projects website.