Nia Imara standing next to her painting, "Who Is Happy in America?"
Nia Imara standing next to her painting, “Who Is Happy in America?”

Nia Imara sheds light on Oakland through art

Nia Imara emerged from a storage closet in the East Oakland Youth Development center with a large canvas covered in bright shades of red, purple and yellow. The painting was one of her own and had been inspired by an old photo of a black woman brushing her hair and looking into a compact mirror. The woman sat in a large flower with smaller flowers blooming from the center—the floral, an artistic addition not present in the original photo. Small white spots that were evocative of snow, pollen, or maybe even stars surrounded the woman.

Born in East Oakland and raised in the Bay Area, Imara is an astronomer and a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, holding the prestigious title of a Harvard-MIT Future Faculty Leader Postdoctoral Fellow. Not only was she was the first African American woman to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics from UC Berkeley, but she is also a self-taught painter.

Imara currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she conducts much of her research, which focuses on giant molecular clouds. She had just flown into Oakland the previous evening to host her “Generation of Oakland: The People’s Portrait” photo project and present her one-day art exhibit, “Lumiphilia.” The events took place at the East Oakland Youth Development Center on consecutive nights; Akonadi Foundation and The California Endowment sponsored both events.

“Lumiphilia” was a showcase of some of Imara’s paintings that she says reflect her passion for people, color, and light. The title, she said, speaking by phone a few weeks before she had arrived in California for the opening, “is a word I made up. ‘Lum’ is the Latin word for light and ‘philos’ is from the Greek word for love or love of. So ‘lover of light’—that describes me.” She was calling from a landline in a forest cabin in Green Bank, West Virginia, where she was staying as she worked at the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”……..

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