The Importance of Recreation in Jarrel Phillips’ ‘How We Play’ Exhibition

Jul 23, 2019

Jarrel Phillips is a unique character. He’s from San Francisco’s Fillmore area, raised out there in the ’90s and early 2000s, at the tail end of when Fillmore was “Fillmoe.” That’s where he soaked up the culture, and learned about the performing arts and the importance of storytelling. Now he works to give it back.

Photos from Phillips’ latest exhibition, How We Play, have been on the walls at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library since April of this year. The images show people being active, playing, dancing and expressing themselves in places as far as Ethiopia and Tanzania, as well in Phillips’ community in San Francisco.

A kid clowning. (Jerrell Phillips)

Phillips, who’s also a capoeira instructor and cultural archivist currently working on his first book, told me that his goal with the exhibition is to show the importance of recreational activity. “It’s not just play, in the sense of kids playing; it’s play from a sociological perspective,” said Phillips.

The underlying message in the performance part of the exhibition is the tale of the “the trickster,” according to Phillips. “It’s the story of the Malandragem—the trickster in Brazil, an archetype of a character who gets what they want, not by force, but by trickery.”

Phillips told me that it’s important to acknowledge the past in his present work, as he doesn’t take lightly the changes that have and continue to happen to his hometown, especially in regards to the black community.

“I am SF, black past and present,” said Phillips.

Dancers in East Africa. Photo by Jarrel Phillips. (Jarrel Phillips)

A closing ceremony for ‘How We Play’ is held Aug. 3, 2019, from 1pm–3pm at the San Francisco Public Library’s Jewett Gallery. Details here.

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