Sitting in a black room under a prismatic blue spotlight, surrounded by the sounds of the sea, art graduate student Anthony Wilson was swept up by the oceanic magic of the artwork that will be unveiled under the name Hydrarchy: Power, Globalization and the Sea at SF State’s Fine Art Gallery Feb. 21.

The show is part of an interdisciplinary examination of power and the sea and will include the art exhibit, a film festival on March 6-7 and a panel discussion on March 19.

SF State art professor Michael Arcega organized the show with the gallery’s curators, Mark Johnson and Sharon Bliss. After proposing to teach a class on the subject this semester, Johnson invited Arcega to do a gallery show.

“Incorporating different areas of study such as cinema, sculpture and art history really encourages the art faculty and students to embrace the curriculum as we explore this concept,” Johnson said.

Hydrarchy is a term used by the book, “The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic” by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. The term refers to the globalization made possible by way of the sea and encourages audiences to think about the power, allegiance and citizenship in terms of bodies of water .

SF State art professor Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, who organized the panel discussion, was responsible for introducing Arcega to the term hydrarchy. Arcega said that it perfectly framed his interests in globalization, colonization, post-colonialism and cultural diaspora that he references to in his work.

Sculpture pieces from Arcega’s “War Clubs” series and his sculpture “El Conquistadork” will be shown at Hydrarchy with work from professional artists including Bas Jan Ader, David Huffman, John Roloff, Allan Sekula and Weston Teruya.

A pirate ship sits in the middle of the room while Emily Vanags, an Art History Major, prepares the Hydrarchy Gallery on Tuesday Feb. 17. (Marlene Sanchez / Xpress)
A pirate ship sits in the middle of the room while Emily Vanags, an Art History Major, prepares the Hydrarchy Gallery on Tuesday Feb. 17. (Marlene Sanchez / Xpress)

“When I see an artist working in a similar way, I perk up and take notice,” Arcega said. “I find that (similar) interests gravitate to one another. It stems from a common curiosity.”

Teruya is involved in both the gallery showing and panel discussion. His sculptures “The 9th Island and Other Lands” and “From a land of low-lying clouds” touch on the diaspora of Hawaii’s population and the cultural allegiances that come from it.

“Hawaii is interesting as it is both isolated geographically, but paradoxically connected to other cultures throughout the Pacific,” Teruya said. “I’m interested in what that the negotiation and dynamic of a community without a geographic space looks like and feels like.”

To augment these themes, SF State cinema graduates David de Rozas and Rodrigo Sombra will be curating “The Open Boat: Cinema and the Maritime Imaginary.” Over the course of two days, de Rozas and Sombra will screen a constellation of films exploring labor, trade, migration, diaspora and cross-cultural commerce through seaway travel.

Sombra and de Rozas are still working out the details of the film festival, which will be screened in August at Coppola Theater two weeks after the art exhibition’s debut.

“As of now, we’re in the final stretch securing copyrights to screen these films,” Sombra said. “We’re also planning to conduct a short lecture after each screening to tie together all the ideas that have been advanced in the films we’re able to show.”

To wrap up the month-long exhibition, a panel at the Cesar Chavez Student Center will use the critical perspective of hydrarchy to discuss how artistic practice and art history can open up to new forms of knowledge, according to Kavuri-Bauer.

With just three days left until the art show, Arcega is pleased with the way things have fallen into place.

“It’s been a rewarding experience,” Arcega said. “Being a new professor on campus, it’s nice to participate in a project that’s larger than the sum of its parts. We are collectively exploring the breadth and possibility of a singular topic. It’s exciting.”