On a cold and gray afternoon last spring at the City College Art Department, gloomy skies cast a vague malaise over the campus. And then professor Gioia Fonda, sporting a shiny turquoise helmet, pedaled in on her trusty steed, her bicycle. She looks like an explosion of cupcake sprinkles atop a slice of plain white cheesecake.
Fonda, 43, an art professor at City College, is a prolific interdisciplinary artist, working primarily in 2-dimensional media: mainly painting, drawing, sewing and photography. She moved to Sacramento 17 years ago after a stint in New York to do her master’s degree in fine art, and continues to flourish as an artist with a definite social conscience, one who believes in creating art for the public in public spaces.
In one of her exhibit biographies, she was described as a “collector of flotsam,” and indeed, one of her projects was collecting garbage and discarded items that she came across on her daily bike rides during the time of the financial crash in 2008.
“The first time I moved the piles was because they were in my way,” she says. “But then the next time I rode by, I started to notice the garbage piles were getting bigger. This was when many of the people in the area were forced to vacate their homes in haste, due to the predatory lending crises. That’s when I started taking photos.”
First, it was just photos. Then, Fonda began collecting the garbage, drawing the discarded items, and eventually was moved to paint them.
“What we buy,” she says. “It’s very private but ends up in a very public space, the sidewalk. I started seeing that the piles were happening more and more in my neighborhood.”
Fonda describes herself as a “cultural Argonaut,” one who ventures forth through trash like the ancients on a quest — a “faux anthropologist” who strongly believes in creating art for the public to enjoy.
One of her later projects, called “Give a Fork,” engages conversations about our community relationship to food. She and a handful of volunteers went door to door asking local residents to donate a culinary fork.
“I knew I wanted to go door to door to collect the forks,” she says. “Forks are very personal. They have been in people’s mouths. There is a whole food culture here with the Farm to Fork movement, and yet we have food insecurity within the region. The residents do give back a lot, they take classes and do workshops at the food bank and volunteer at the literacy center and yet, many people still feel left out. Social justice here can blend with the food movement. I am acknowledging with this piece that there is a problem.”
The “Give a Fork” project is one of a stew of three key social practice art works developed as part of the Crocker Art Museum’s Block by Block arts engagement initiative, focused in various districts in the City of Sacramento. It’s been displayed in part at the Art Hotel.
“This wall piece is currently in my studio, awaiting an appropriate public place to install it. It is a comment on social justice,” she says. “I don’t need to put it in Curtis Park because it is already a nice neighborhood.”
The piece will be displayed at a yet to be determined location within the grittier District 5, which covers large parts of South Sacramento.
Fonda’s office on campus is a riot of color, crammed floor to ceiling with various manifestations of her art, as she recalls her journey from the Bay Area to Sacramento, by way of New York City.
“New York was good for my art,” she says. “I got my master’s there at the School of Visual Arts, and I worked as a figure model. I learned the most from just walking down the streets, though. Even though I always wore all black, I was too cheerful, too friendly, and I smiled too much for New Yorkers.”
Fonda and her husband ended up in Sacramento, which she now considers “her town.” She has carved out a good life here. Her students appreciate her dedication to helping them find their inner artist, no matter what the class.
“Whatever level you start out at in her class,” says former art student Trace Crow, “you will improve. It’s a fun class, and she is quirky in a good and fun way.”
Another one of Fonda’s many projects is Pink Week, a splendidly simple “celebratory art piece without a cause” promoting the color pink, stripped of any and all politics, religion or gender, just a rosy, seven days of the blushing hue. There are limitless quotations out there about the color pink, possibly more than any other color.
“Pink is the navy blue of India,” says fashion icon Diana Vreeland. The drag queen and social blogger Gina Tonic says pink has “a complicated past and present, but maybe the future can be better.”
Whatever your feelings about the color, Pink Week is Freedom Week.
“This holiday is an attempt to temporarily liberate the color pink from any meaning or traditional associations,” Fonda says on the Pink Week web page. The soufflé of celebration has risen and spread, not only to San Francisco, but all over the world.
And speaking of San Francisco, the gentrification there has sparked a mass exodus of the artist community, and currently only a tiny trickle of artists are relocating to Sacramento. Fonda voiced her opinion on whether this is a good city for artists to relocate to.
“I’d like it if Bay Area artists moved here,” she says. “It would be more energy, new ideas and new connections. I hope that they end up getting involved in their neighborhoods, and that the new people coming in are on board with slow change. We have to build a different culture here, and they have to understand that they are a lot of people making change, but that the change has to happen slowly.”
Fonda is a thoughtful artist with experience, ideas and passion.That’s a cocktail that is stirred for success, and her art students get to take a drink of it.
“She’s awesome, her method of teaching is not intimidating, and I have learned a lot from her,” says former student, Christin Turpen.