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Lisbet Tellefsen: The Memory Keeper Behind Angela Davis — Seize the Time 

image: Archivist Lisbet Tellefsen poses with Bay Area journalist and KQED Rightnow-ish podcast host, Pendarvis Harshaw, at the exhibition preview of Angela Davis — Seize the Time.

Some people collect baseball cards, coins, stamps, even Beanie Babies, with the hope they will be worth thousands, maybe even millions one day. For Oakland archivist, collector, and activist Lisbet Tellefsen, collecting relics of the past equates more to a meditative practice on memory, piecing together seemingly unrelated jigsaw puzzle pieces into meaningful pictures one may not fully see until 20, even 30 years later.

Browse through one of Tellefsen’s dozens of binders, overflowing with hundreds of Black cultural memorabilia, and you’ll feel the urgency of the memories stored in her archives. 

In OMCA’s major exhibition, Angela Davis — Seize the Time explores the life and legacy of renowned activist and cultural icon, Angela Davis. At the heart of this exhibition are the hundreds of artifacts from the dedicated Angela Davis archive by Tellefsen.  

Purchase tickets to see Angela Davis — Seize the Time which is on view from October 7, 2022 – June, 2023.

Tellefsen had been collecting for years before she proposed the idea of an exhibition based on her Angela Davis collection. Since she was a child growing up in 1960s Berkeley, Tellefsen already had the makings of a future memory keeper, frequently holding on to tickets, posters, and other mementos from her travels. She also had role models in family members and neighbors who served as historians in local activist organizations. What started as a young person’s pasttime became an activist’s life’s work; Tellefsen has since become a leading source of late 20th century Black American cultural artifacts, specializing in the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis, Black LGBT culture and political graphics.

Having already featured her archives in books, films, television projects, and other museum exhibitions including OMCA’s 2016 All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, Tellefsen began thinking about what her next move would be for her collection. Another historical anniversary would end up being the spark that led to Seize the Time

In 1970, 26-year-old Angela Davis would be arrested and charged with three capital felonies, including conspiracy to commit murder. For over a year, Davis was held in jail. Over the course of that same year, people united in a global campaign known as “Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. ” Davis was ultimately acquitted of all charges in 1972. This year marks the 50th anniversary of her acquittal and release from prison. 

Traveling to the West Coast for the first time after its debut at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Seize the Time features both Tellefsen’s archives as well as contemporary artworks, and offers a deeper look into the life of Angela Davis through the lens of race, gender, economics, and policy. The exhibition focuses on Davis’s arrest, incarceration, trial, and the national and international campaigns to free her and highlights her legacy as well as her ongoing role as an important contemporary figure for artists and activists, asking us to consider how we can keep memories alive and productive for the next generation.

Every generation has those people that preserve its history. With Angela Davis — Seize the Time, Tellefsen is not just preserving our history, but sharing it with us as well.

Angela Davis — Seize the Time is organized by the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Additional support is provided by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, Voorhees Family Endowment, Estate of Regina Heldrich, and donors to the Zimmerli’s Major Exhibitions Fund: James and Kathrin Bergin, Alvin and Joyce Glasgold, and Sundaa and Randy Jones.

Support for the development of the Oakland presentation of this exhibition is provided by Nia Impact Capital.

sponsors of Angela Davis-Seize The Time