OMCA ‘Hella Feminist’ exhibit captivates and challenges audience across Bay Area


The “Hella Feminist” exhibit, currently on display at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), dissects feminism through the lens of time. The OMCA hired local artists to contribute their perspectives on feminism through paintings, interviews, photographs, and objects.

Miriam Klein Stahl, an Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA) art teacher at BHS, was a contributor to the exhibit. Having her work featured at OMCA was a long-standing dream, making this an exciting opportunity. She uses an Exacto knife to cut out designs on black paper that are shown against a contrasting white background, creating bold graphics. This style is utilized in the well-known book, “Rad American Women A to Z”, which she illustrated.

Stahl’s piece in the “Hella Feminist” exhibit is titled, “Work.” The goal was to celebrate working women and nonbinary people, and memorialized in the 300 portraits are activists, chefs, musicians, and entrepreneurs from the East Bay whose contributions are often overlooked. 

The portraits are accompanied by audio devices where you can listen to interviews with these people as they discuss their experiences and feminism at large. The sum of the art was compiled into a zine, which included Stahl’s art with corresponding text written by Kate Schatz.

The exhibit explores feminism’s ever evolving nature through its waves. The first wave in the late 1800s and early 1900s granted women the right to vote. One of the first ballot boxes in which women and men both cast their votes is on display in this section. In the next phase, women started to fight for other rights, like equal pay in all fields and control over their own bodies. 

One exhibit piece showcased a video of someone graphically touching fruit.

One exhibit piece showcased a video of someone graphically touching fruit.

Clara Elm Nettesheim

The third wave of feminism in the 1990s  brought intersectionality in terms of race, sexual harassment, and abuse to the forefront of the media. 

The fourth and most current wave of feminism started in 2008 and recognizes that feminism doesn’t have a rigid definition. Symbols like the pink “pussy hat” emerged, which people would wear to women’s marches as a symbol of their alliance with feminism. 

Stahl’s definition of feminism shows the flexibility of the word, “It’s a way to view the world. To recognize that there’s a power imbalance between female-identifying people and male-identifying people.”

Entering the exhibit, an X-ray depicting a woman wearing a corset is displayed, with text saying, “To have and to hold (you in),” showing how women had to conform to society’s expectations in that era. OMCA staff created this by using images from their collections paired with phrases from shapewear advertisements throughout the decades.  

Further into the exhibit, there is a video of someone graphically touching fruit to represent female pleasure. Nearby is a display of sex toys, made by the proud small business owner Nessa Joiner running Feelmore Adult on Shattuck Ave. The company’s purpose is to embrace sexual pleasure. 

The exhibit juxtaposes these two angles on feminism, showing how women were physically restrained whereas now, people like Joiner encourage women to express themselves physically. 

As Stahl said, “I think that feminism is for everybody. All BHS students can make our world better if they jump on the boat of feminism.” This exhibit offers a unique chance to hear the perspectives of feminists from the Bay Area, including one of our own BHS teachers.