'not ur baby' provides sanctuary for womxn and non-binary creatives
Inside artist Vanessa Vigil's pop-up exhibition and all-day celebration in Oakland.
Photo by Sabrina Sellers.
Last month, on a sunny Saturday in Oakland, nearly 600 people crowded into 7th West’s bar, just a block away from the West Oakland BART station. The space was temporarily transformed into a gallery space to host Not Ur Baby 3, a pop-up arts exhibition celebrating the work of womxn and non-binary artists.
Founded by Vanessa “Vavi” Vigil in 2015, Not Ur Baby was created with the intention of providing sanctuary for womxn and non-binary creatives while giving back to those who keep that work going year-round. This year, the show was bigger and more organized than it’s ever been. Over 50 artists came to sell, perform, and display their work. It was, at its heart, a showcase and fundraiser, both strict on including only womxn or non-binary artists and dedicated to raising money for Oakland-based organizations like Regina’s Door, a dual boutique and artistic safe space for people who have been sex-trafficked.
When Vanessa was 19, she had begun to map out plans for Not Ur Baby while spending time in San Francisco’s Mission district, a neighborhood founded on its Latinx roots with a rich history in local arts and culture. “I used to hang out in the Mission a lot,” she says. “With this group of guys. And they always threw these art events, which was kind of my first introduction to the Bay Area art scene.”
Immediately, Vanessa would get shut down in the decision making processes. “They kept me around, but I was so limited,” she said. After a while, she identified the problem. “I always struggled with the main guy, the main curator. He just had such an ego with me, and I also caught ego power trips from people running the venues. One of the venues I worked with was run by a group of guys who just didn’t want to give me my artwork back. There were multiple instances where I was like, ‘There’s a common denominator here.’” She laughs. “And it’s the male ego.”
Her frustrations with the Bay Area’s male-dominated art scene stacked up. For this reason, Not Ur Baby’s contributors are all womxn, including this year’s staff. “I wanted to throw a show where women don’t even have to talk to a man directly,” she said. “From my media manager, to my stage manager, to me, to my partner. We’re all womxn. No one has to deal with the male ego.”
Creating a space where womxn and non-binary folks could bask in each other’s joy, music, laughter, and love was a necessity. Not Ur Baby is a space that a young Vanessa had wished existed, and as its founder, she delivers that sanctuary to other womxn and non-binary creatives.
“We’re all feeding each other,” Vanessa, now 25, said. In Oakland and San Francisco, two cities experiencing rapid change due to gentrification, and where womxn and non-binary folks already feel excluded and unsafe at all times, this sentiment holds more weight now than ever before.
Not Ur Baby 3 was a space meant to be experienced from entrance to exit. The show always has three elements: visual artists, performers, and vendors. Upon walking inside this particular show, attendees were swallowed up by the visual art gallery, structured with maze-like walls. The paintings, photographs, and installations told stories of self-preservation, sexuality, spirituality, and protest.
Behind the gallery was an indoor stage, where a DJ played their set, encircled by guests dancing in the dim, yellow lights. Outside visitors could enjoy the day’s lineup of spoken word poetry, DJ sets, and musical performances. Nearby were the show’s vendors, where womxn hovered over their sacred creations: shimmering jewelry at dusk, herbs in jars, carefully-designed clothes, and colorful stones.
The show had come a long way in the past four years. The first one was an individual effort, organized in a month’s time. “The money came out of my pocket,” she said. “Not Ur Baby 1 made negative dollars. So with the second one, I was like ‘Fuck, I can’t spend this much money.’ Mind you, I was 22. I didn’t have the money to throw down thousands of dollars on this show.”
So, she googled some ways in which she could quickly get sponsors. “I just had to reach out to someone who I think could contribute. At the time, I noticed G-Eazy had liked one of my photos, and I didn’t even realize it before, but he was following me. At some point, I just said ‘Fuck it,’ and I sent him a DM, with a breakdown of what I was trying to do. He agreed when I asked if I could send him an email with more details. I had a GoFundMe, and he just had his management throw in a part of the budget.”
This was the first time Vanessa had a team working beside her, many of whom she met through people she knew. All of the help Vanessa received for Not Ur Baby 1, 2, and 3 have been volunteer-based, contributed by folks who are solely focused on supporting Bay Area womxn and non-binary artists. That work speaks on the love and support that Oakland and San Francisco natives have always had for one another.
“Oakland and San Francisco have always been my backyard, as soon as I could take BART. I’ve done all the kid things: I was at the races in Oakland when I shouldn’t have been, I was drinking at Dolores Park when I shouldn’t have been. You feel me? I’m a Bay baby,” Vanessa said, expanding on how the Bay has been home to revolutionary movements. “I’m talking about Pride. I’m talking about the Castro. I’m talking about the Black Panthers. People here are ready to organize and revolutionize. And that is an energy within itself, something people here don’t even realize they’re still carrying.”
Now that Not Ur Baby 3 is over, Vanessa ponders the future of the exhibition series and how she can keep the revolutionary spirit alive. “This show is beyond me now. So beyond me. But my goal in general is to keep Not Ur Baby a safe space. For queers. For people of color, like me. I am a queer Mexican and Native American womxn. I want it to continue to be a place for healing and inspiration.”