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Unsettling California

September 1–October 1, 2022

Glass Box Gallery

UC Santa Barbara, Arts Bldg 534

Santa Barbara, CA 93106

Unsettling California is a student-curated art exhibition and justice-oriented educational program focused on race and migration in California, in conjunction with UC Santa Barbara's Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series. Featuring works by contemporary California artists whose practices question the persistent presence of colonial ideologies, structures, and policies that have shaped migration, citizenship, inclusion, exclusion, and the racial formations of the State.

Dominant migration narratives are often represented globally and nationally as an exemplar of the “American Dream” and/or the “California Dream”. These stories hide the historical and ongoing realities of European settler colonialism and white supremacy. While California, the largest state by population in the United States, tries to maintain an image of a progressive, multiracial, multicultural utopia, the actions of state actors alongside the mythologies of the “California dream” mask histories of genocide, forced removal, and segregation, use of forced labor, indentured labor, and semi-bound labor contracts. They also conceal ongoing state violence, anti-black racism, and symbolic and cultural violence that Native Americans continue to endure. These colonial and racist structures connect to contemporary conditions through state legislation, immigration policies, allocation of resources, forced removal and dispossession of land, and systems of oppression; they will undoubtedly have consequences far into the future. In response to such historical erasure and lingering legacies, we offer the concept of “unsettling” as a means of disrupting existing narratives and as an analogy for rejecting colonial logics of migration. The exhibition will offer visitors the opportunity to learn about their role in colonial histories and to reimagine/remap their place in future migration narratives and racial formations.

This exhibition was funded through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and UC Santa Barbara's Summer Sessions.

If you would like to learn more about the Mellon Sawyer Seminar, please visit

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