Category Archives: political art

Art Murmur Tonight!

It’s the First Friday of Fall. Yeah, I know… it’s not technically fall yet. But you can’t deny it certainly FEELS like fall. The leaves are dropping, the naked ladies have blossomed, and the evening twilight arrives far too soon.

While it’s sad to bid farewell to Summer, I have to admit it’s also a time of great excitement for me, as I’ve just begin a two-year MFA graduate program at Mills College. Oakland baby! It’s new and different and thrilling and scary and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m already buried under an avalanche of homework.

I’ve been trying to decide if I could keep the blog going in the midst of this craziness, and while I’m not sure it’s actually a good idea, I’ve decided I’m going to try. TRY, being the operative word. Of course, I can already hear Yoda’s voice in my head, “No TRY, only DO.” Yeah well… fuck Yoda. I’m playing it by ear and that’s all I can say for now.

My future posts will likely be short and scattershot. And in that vein, here’s a quick synopsis of two cool shows to definitely not miss if you’re out Art Murmuring tonight…

Pieces of Oakland at Warehouse 416

Cities are alive. They transform. They expand and contract and decay and renew, and yes, some even die. This show is all about the transformations that have happened, and are happening now, in our beloved city of Oakland. And it’s all happening really fast…

Oakland is on a cusp. We’re a mid-sized formerly industrial city that’s emblematic of many cities across the nation, and many are watching to see just what we’ll do as we grapple with issues of economic development, housing, transportation, education, and crime. There are plans already in the works, and plans now proposed and proceeding through the pipeline, including:

Pieces of Oakland focuses on two of these redevelopment areas: Lake Merritt Station and West Oakland, highlighting their changing “faces” through the eyes of photographers, writers, planners, and neighbors by showcasing over 70 individual pieces from various sources: fragments of policy documents, oral histories, official planning maps, and a unique collection of contemporary and archival photographs.

Conceived and curated by Chelsea Wurms, the show prompts viewers to ask what it means to be part of this city. She says, “This is a unique moment for Oakland. I want to see people talking about their own values, sharing their impressions with each other, imagining other perspectives.”

Don’t miss this opportunity examine, and contribute to, the life story of our great city!

31-Oakland Photo Project_102713_5799 west-oakland-redevelopment

Warehouse 416
416 26th Street, Oakland
Opening Friday, September 5th: 6pm-10pm
Every Saturday in September: 1pm-5pm

Betti Ono’s 4th Anniversary “AMEN”

Betti Ono Gallery is celebrating its fourth anniversary tonight with a forward thinking, culture-shifting mixed media show exemplary of the multi-disciplinary, experimental work it’s been putting forth since it first opened in 2010… the type of work that garnered it the 2014 East Bay Express Reader’s Poll Best Gallery Award.

Titled “AMEN: A Collaborative Meditation for Survival,” the show is an open experiment with language and image, designed to reimagine American mythology with futuristic and visionary depictions of traditionally marginalized groups (especially queer people of color) in culturally recognizable positions of power. The idea is to question how we might be programming existing systems of marginalization into our future society, and to disrupt that process, and envision an all-affirming and inclusive world instead.

Featuring eight 2-dimensional visual works and eight wall texts, the show was developed by two artists:  visual artist Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and writer Carrie Y.T. Kholi. Gallery owner Anyka Barber had worked with each before and, seeing the resonances in the issues their artworks addressed, brought them together for this special show. Though friends for years, this is Amaryllis and khoLi’s first collaborative artistic project.

I asked about the nature of their collaboration… Amaryllis said, “khoLi and I began a conversation around survival at the very beginning. At that point, we had spoken on surviving academia, both being queer women of color. I had just graduated from the California College of the Arts, and KhoLi is in the process of getting her PhD in English Literature.  Our conversations quickly evolved into a larger conversation around spiritual and mythological survival, and we grew AMEN from that place.”

This show is a celebration for ALL. Don’t miss it!

Amen-BettiOno Instructions for a Storm (closeup2)
Thick Dig (Ghost Sighting)
Betti Ono Gallery
1427 Broadway, Oakland
Friday, September 5th: 6pm-9pm

On the Road: Street Art – Greek Style

Now that we’re home and the jet lag has dissipated, I thought I’d share some of the street art we encountered while in Greece. We spent most of our time on the islands for our friends’ wedding and saw little street art there, so it wasn’t until our time in the capital city of Athens, a scant 48 hours, that we saw anything really noteworthy.

The political unrest in Athens has mostly died down since the violent demonstrations of 2012, but you can still see remnants of it through the graffiti and street art that activists have left behind. I only documented a couple of the smaller pieces (the largest ones were seen from the window of a taxi whizzing by at 95km per hour on our way to the airport), and focused on those in which stencils were deployed rather than haphazardly scrawled writing which, while political, weren’t particularly artful in my opinion.

This first one is a take-off of the iconic WWII image “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” by Joseph Rosenthal. Note the anarchy symbol on the flag.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, Greek Graffiti, Iwo Jima Stencil

WWII, Joseph Rosenthal

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joseph Rosenthal

This one speaks for itself…
greek graffiti, athens stencil graffiti, fuck the system stencil, fuck the system
We saw this next one around town quite a bit. I assumed it was related to the economic unrest in Greece but it turns out it’s a political statement of a different flavor. A local Greek friend translated it for me – it says “Every sexist/homophobic deserves to be thrown off Lycabettus”. I thought this was pretty funny, but my Greek friend thought they took it a bit too far. For those who don’t know, Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens, a sharp peak that stands 277 meters above sea level. See pictures below: the first was taken from across the city at the Acropolis, and the second is from the top of Lycabettus itself, with its perched 19th century chapel on the left and downtown Athens below.
anti-homophobia graffiti, greek graffiti, athens stencil graffiti
Lycabettus Hill, Athens highest point

view from Lycabettus hill

View from top of Lycabettus Hill


This next image has two separate stencils… I know this because I tried my darndest to translate the Greek under the image of the child and found a photo of just that stencil without the pixellated heart underneath, which must have been added later. The best translation I could come up with was something along the lines of “the ego ate”, but I’m not sure if this is a statement, or the artist’s tag.

greek graffiti, athens stencil graffiti

We saw a lot of non-political street art as well and the rest of these fall into this category. This next one, as it says, is a poem. It’s part of a “poetry game” in the city where QR codes scattered throughout Athens “invite you to discover the poetry hidden in unexpected places.” How cool is that? Scan it and you’ll see…
QR code graffiti, greek graffiti, this is a poem graffiti

This one was spotted on our way to the Acropolis.
greek graffiti, athens graffiti, athens street art

And we saw this little painting on our way to get cappuccino freddos at Clemente VIII, what the NY Times called “the best.” And I have to say, they were pretty darned delicious.
greek street art, athens street art
These last two are really cool wheatpastes…
greek graffiti, wheatpaste, greek wheatpaste, athens graffiti

This final one was actually the first piece I spotted, just a couple of blocks from our hotel, but I’ve put it last because I love it so much. End with a bang!
greek graffiti, wheatpaste, greek wheatpaste, athens graffiti

The Weekend What-To-Do List: this one goes to eleven!

It’s a big weekend people. It’s June. It’s Art Murmur. First Friday. AND Open Studios. And though it’s not technically summer yet, it’s going to feel like it this weekend. It’s gonna be hot!

So whether you’re motivated to take in the arts, bask at the beach, dawdle in the garden, or dance till the sun comes up, there’s something here for you. Check it out my list of ten what-to-dos for this weekend. There are some unique events that only occur once per year so if you miss it, you miss it. Till next year of course. I’ve even mapped something outside Oaktown–shock of all shocks–ready for the island mon? This may be the perfect weekend for it… Hope you enjoy.

10 WHAT-TO-DOS

1. Honeydrop Hometown Throwdown at The New Parish

Friday, June 6th – 7:30 pm
The New Parish – 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
Cost: $20

The California Honeydrops, a self-described “party band” with a humble, down-to-earth dedication to exploring the vast spectrum of American roots music—New Orleans second-line, soul, funk, and Americana—will be throwing down at the New Parish Tonight. No doubt this will be a good time at a great little club.  Cajun blues band Tri Tip Trio and New Orleans-style brass band MJ’s Brass Boppers will open the show, and the food truck Roderick’s BBQ will be selling Southern food.

2. Art Murmur

Friday, June 6th – Most galleries open till 9pm

I don’t need to tell you about Art Murmur. It’s awesome. Just go. Here’s one of my favorite pics from May’s Murmur… I had an incredible time but never got around to posting about it. Sorry.

Art Murmur, Free Masks

3a) Emory Douglas: Artist for the People, Opening Reception And Artist Talk

Emory Douglas, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Artist for the People, Black Panther PartyFriday, June 6th  6-9pm
Joyce Gordon Gallery – 406 14th Street

Emory Douglas is a provocatively political artist. He was the designated Revolutionary Artist and former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, and you’re likely familiar with many of his bold graphic posters and flyers, their stark aggressiveness emblematic of the “insurrectionary atmosphere of the [60’s and 70’s], with urban rebellions igniting from city to city and strikes from campus to campus.” Emory will be on hand for this event which should prove to be a fascinating look into the black history of Oakland.

3b) First Friday Shorts Presents: Youth Radio

Friday, June 6th – 6:00pm
The New Parkway – 474 24th St., Oakland
Cost: FREE

Tonight, Youth Radio will present a showcase of its youth videos, creatively portraying the everyday issues that most affect young Oaklanders today – community violence, relationships, education, and more. Also featured will be live performances by the young artists and a discussion about art, media-making and growing up during the height of Oakland’s major cultural and economic shifts. Don’t miss this provocative conversation with the next generation of Oakland artists, newsmakers, and leaders.

3c) Doomed and Misguided: Reggie Warlock and Chris Micro, Opening Reception

Reggie Warlock, Chris Micro, LoakalFriday, June 6th – open till 10pm
Loakal – 560 2nd St. (Jack London Square)

You may not have heard of Reggie Warlock and Chris Micro, but you’ve likely seen their character-based graffiti in murals and tags around Oakland. “A battle cry for underground counterculture’s place in fine art, the exhibition will feature new individual and collaborative paintings and a site-specific installation… Filled with neon colors, humor, and a cartoon-like aesthetic, their work celebrates the worlds of graffiti, hip-hop and skateboarding.”

 3d) 5th Annual Temescal Art Hop

Friday, June 6th  6pm – 9pm
Temescal

This year’s Art Hop features over 20 participating locations including galleries, shops, and cafes around Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. 48th St (@ Telegraph) and the Temescal Alleys (@ 49th) will feature food vendors and live music.

Pick up an official Art Hop Map from one of the participating locations and collect stamps to enter a raffle drawing to win one of a slew of cool prizes.

4. Urban Farm Tours

Saturday, June 7th  10am – 4pm, tours at each site start every hour
4 sites in Oakland, 4 in Berkeley
Cost: $5 per site ($3 for kids under 12), pay at the door on the day of the event
NOTE: you must contact/register in advance – email iuh@sparkybeegirl.com at least one hour before the event to receive details and locations.

Have you wanted to check out Novella Carpenter’s Ghost Town Farm? Well, now’s your chance!  Her plot, as well as 3 others in Oaktown and 4 more in Berkeley, will be featured on the Institute of Urban Homesteading’s Annual Tour. If you want to learn out how to implement low-water food-production systems or even set up a goat dairy operation in your backyard, this is your chance to hear from the experts. The largest farm on the tour is Full Harvest Urban Farm in East Oakland, spread across 3 lots comprising nearly 27,000 square feet. It’s a super sized full service farm with 25 chickens and 8 ducks for both meat and egg production, 3 kinder dual-purpose goats, dispersed orchard and vegetable plots and a potbelly pig!

Ghost Town Farm is the setting and inspiration for Novella’s well known memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. It’s an amazing story of the little farm she’s set up on a empty lot in West Oakland, not far from my old loft (I wrote a post about my first visit here). The other two Oakland farms are Kansas Street Farm in East Oakland, a small food farm with free-range chickens and rain catchment on a rental property, and Lower Bottom Strange Grange in West Oakland, with ducks, bees, aquaponics also on rental property.

5. 48th Annual Sand Castle & Sand Sculpture Contest

Saturday, June 7th  Registration 9-11am, Judging starts at 12noon, Awards Ceremony at 1pm
Robert Crown Memorial State Beach – Westline Drive & Otis Drive, ALAMEDA
Cost: FREE

It’s going to be 80 degrees on Saturday… what a perfect day to hit the beach! But to participate in this event you’ve gotta get up pretty early. For those who plan to tear it up tonight, it may be more realistic to stroll by midday… you’re sure to be astounded by the fantastic creations whipped up in just a few hours. It’s amazing. And oh so temporary.

 

alameda sand castle contest

photo courtesy of Alameda Journal blog

6. East Bay Open Studios (weekend 1)

June 7th & 8th  11am – 6pm
Multiple Cities throughout the East Bay

What can I say? Open Studios is hosted each year by Pro Arts. They’re an institution and this year they’re celebrating their 40th anniversary! How fabulous is that? Four decades of community building, pushing boundaries, and supporting the artists of the greater East Bay. This weekend (and next) is an incredible opportunity to see a seemingly limitless smorgasbord of art in super intimate settings. I think my favorite part of Open Studios is getting to see each artist’s workspace… so different from seeing pieces displaced to a pristine gallery.

This year over 400 artist studios are included during the two weekends of self-guided touring. Media include book art, ceramics, conceptual, digital, drawing, furniture, glass, installation, jewelry, metal, mixed media, mosaic, painting, paper, pastel, photography, print-making, sculpture, textiles, watercolors, and wood! You’ll need the directory and maps to guide yourself. If you don’t already have one, you can download the East Bay Open Studios Directory here.

7. 38th Annual Redwood Heights Block Sale

block-saleSaturday, June 7th  9am – 3pm
Enter sale at Redwood Rd & Jordan Rd. Sale continues on Bennett, Guido, Norton & Retig.

This is the mother of all garage sales. My girlfriend is participating and will be selling off gorgeous mid-century furniture, dining items, barware, and more. With over 20 families participating,  you’ll also find tons of kid and baby stuff, kitchen items, books and lots more all at great prices. Tons of treasures in an easy three or four block area. Sale wraps around Jordan Park (AKA Avenue Terrace Park) so the kids will have something to look forward to after you are done shopping.

8. Shapeshifters Cinema

Sunday, June 8th, doors 7:30, show 8-9pm
Temescal Art Center – 511 48th St (@ Telegraph)
Cost: FREE

“Shapeshifters Cinema is a monthly expanded cinema series featuring experimental filmmakers and video artists presenting moving image work live with accompaniment from musicians and sound artists. Dovetailing off recent programming at the Exploratorium, Shapeshifters is excited to present the work of pioneering light artists Dennis Keefe and (the late) Glenn McKay who are two of the artists responsible for creating the famous psychedelic light shows of the 1960s. Working together under the name of the Headlights Light Show, Keefe and McKay performed at many west coast venues, including the Fillmore, and also toured extensively with the Jefferson Airplane. The highlight of the program will be a live light art performance by Dennis Keefe with collaborators Jim Baldocchi and Lori Varga and musical accompaniment by Chris Musgrave (Lumerians) and Sarah R. Brady.”

Ok everyone, I know what you’re saying to yourself… that only looks like 8, and she promised 10. But I think if you’ll look back… you’ll see I did some pretty tricky stuff with #3. This one actually goes to eleven. Have a great weekend y’all!

 

Art Murmur Tonight!

It’s the first friday of March, so you know what that means… Art Murmur and First Friday are happening! Whether you’re looking to actually enjoy some art away from the crowds or get your groove on in crazy-town, there are lots of options available…

PARTY CENTRAL

Though the “murmuring” has grown over the last few years to encompass quite a few more neighborhoods than the Uptown area where it first began back in 2006, Uptown is still the heart of it all, and certainly the epicenter of First Fridays (the street festival that has developed in conjunction with Art Murmur). The festival takes place along Telegraph Avenue all the way from Grand Avenue to 27th Street and along side streets 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th. Best access is from Broadway.

In addition to all the regular fanfare (DJs, bands, food trucks, gallery exhibitions, street artists, etc.) The Great Wall of Oakland (at Grand/Broadway) has a special event tonight… “For the 3rd year in a row, a curated screening of the personal works of Pixar Animation Studio employees will be presented on the 100’x100’ urban canvas. This very unique glimpse into the creative minds of our talented Emeryville neighbors is the only public screening of it’s kind, giving Bay Area residents a rare opportunity to view the short films that Pixar employees create in their spare time when they are not working on major blockbusters.”

Great Wall of Oakland

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

For those looking for a bit of a mellower experience, fret not… you can bypass the whole crazy of Uptown and seek out adventure along a less trampled path. Here are several options highlighted on Art Murmur’s site:

Downtown & Jack London: Along Oakland’s Broadway corridor, four Oakland Art Murmur galleries are featuring new exhibitions.

  • Betti Ono kicks off International Women’s History Month with the west coast premiere of Stop Telling Women To Smile
  • ProArts opens Not of This World, a group show curated by Renny Pritikin that looks at the subtle ways in which art can change how we see the world around us
  • Joyce Gordon Gallery opens the show Exit from Anonymous, a group exhibition of seven women artists in celebration of International Women’s Month
  • Affiliated retailer Field Day presents the whimsical paintings & illustrations of Jenny Jo Kristan along with textiles from featured designer Harriette Ray and a Venetian plaster photo booth by Eddy Lilly Bouquet
  • In Jack London, lOAKal presents Double Vision, an exhibition of two distinct bodies of work (photography & paintings) by Bay Area artist Sam W. Grant

North & West Oakland:

  • In West Oakland, at the intersection of West Street and Grand Avenue, Aggregate Space Gallery presents Broadcast Standards, a solo video show by filmaker and video artist Doug Garth Williams
  • Transmission Gallery, also at West Grand & West (kitty-corner from Aggregate), presents Just Look, abstract paintings by Eva Bovenzi
  • In North Oakland, Temescal Alley’s Interface Gallery premiers Endograph, an installation by the art and architecture team smith | allen
Broadcast Standards at Aggregate Space Gallery

Broadcast Standards at Aggregate Space Gallery

Have Fun. Be Safe. And here’s a map for you intrepid adventurers. Hope to see you out there!

Oakland Art Murmur Venue Map

Friday Night Fun at OMCA

Ever have one of those break-neck speed weeks where you’re barreling full speed towards the weekend and all of a sudden it’s upon you, arriving before you’ve even had a chance to decide how you might actually revel in it? Well that was my week last week.

When Friday rolled around with no plans firmly in place, we opted to hit the Oakland Museum of California’s Friday Night festivities (Friday Nights @ OMCA). It was the perfect ending to a busy week, meeting all of our needs (food, drink, art, and entertainment), all on the cheap!

Friday Nights at OMCA, Friday Nights @ OMCA, Oakland Museum Friday Night

We hit the food trucks first. The trucks are part of Off The Grid, an organization that began in San Francisco in 2010 with the goal of cultivating, managing, and promoting various food truck markets around the Bay Area. The trucks participating rotate weekly, but there was a wide variety to choose from including Korean, Peruvian, Middle Eastern, Indian, and much more.

I’m doing this stupid gluten-free thing right now and surprisingly there were even lots of options for me at Streatery, which dubs itself “glorious peasant food.” I couldn’t agree more. My dinner was delish! My partner in crime enjoyed fantastic falafel and fries from Liba, whom I first wrote about ages ago in The Best Falafel You’ve Ever Had. But I think my favorite truck, despite the fact that I can’t currently indulge in its delicacies, was Grilled Cheese Bandits. It’s just such an excellent name.

Off the Grid, grilled cheese bandits, off the grid food trucks

After dinner, we paid our half-price admission to the museum (kids are all free) and waited for the “snack-sized docent tour” that was set to begin at 7:30. These are offered each Friday night and consist of a short 15-minute docent-led tour introducing visitors to one of the museum’s galleries (you don’t know which one till you show up!)

Since it was the final day of Black History Month, our docent Shirley led us through the gallery of California Art, focusing on three African American artists. We examined one work by each artist, and though they all worked in different mediums, Shirley wove a wonderful narrative tale throughout that tied the experiences of these different artists together into a larger portrayal of the African American experience in general.

We began with a photographic portrait by Carrie Mae Weems, an American artist who works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video but is best known for her work in the field of photography (wikipedia). The image is part of documentary series of images called the Kitchen Table Series (1990), which as you can imagine, features various arrangements of people around the kitchen table. As the place where families gather to share nourishment and experiences, it serves as the perfect focal point around which to portray family stories. Weems says, “In these series, I endeavored to intertwine themes as I have found them in life—racial, sexual, and cultural identity and history—and presented them with overtones of humor and sadness, loss and redemption.”

Carrie Mae Weems, kitchen table series, carrie mae weems self portrait

Next we viewed a sculptural installation made out of old washboards by Betye Saar. Known for her work in the field of assemblage, Saar was a part of the black arts movement in the 1970s, challenging negative myths and stereotypes of African Americans (wikipedia). The piece incorporates language and imagery into the sculpture: each washboard features a painting or photographic transfer of a portrait of a maid or servant, and words stagger down the sculpture comprising its title “LEST WE FORGET THE STRENGTH OF TEARS OF THOSE WHO TOILED.” Poised at the top encased in a beautiful ornate silver frame is a portrait of what appears to be mother and child–the child with diploma in hand. It’s a beautiful and emotionally charged piece that conveys the struggle of generations and the rise of those who followed.

Carrie Mae Weems, washboard installation, washboard sculpture, lest we forget the strength of tears of those who toiled

And finally we landed in the other-worldly scene portraying the imagination of painter David Huffman. Huffman’s work features deeply engaged thematic concerns with African American culture, as well as frequent nods to his childhood love of comic books. Many of his paintings feature his own comic-book-like characters called Traumanauts–they are the small figures in space suits surrounding the amputated tree in the painting below. Huffman defined these characters in a 2009 interview with White Hot Magazine: “The traumanauts are the psychological personalities coming from the rupture of slavery for Africans… From being captured, brought to America and parts of Europe, as workers, as slaves, there’s a cultural identity that’s been decimated. The traumanauts are constantly looking for a location, for home.”

David Huffman, David Huffman painting, tree huggers, traumabots

It’s amazing how much we learned in just 15 short minutes and I highly recommend these snack-sized tours to anyone attending a future Friday Night at OMCA.

We next made our way to the Blue Oak beer garden for a drink, and a little people and koi watching–there’s a lovely koi pond surrounding the garden. There’s a little something here for everyone: live music & DJs, dance lessons, art activities for kids, tasting events for grownups, and plenty of locally crafted beer and wine. I had a delectable glass of Coppola red to quench my thirst and set the mood before hitting one last gallery (they’re all open till 9pm). I hadn’t yet seen the recently re-opened Natural Sciences gallery and was super excited as we made our way to the entrance. But that’s another story… please stay tuned!

Oakland’s Guardian Angel Strikes Again

Spotted this on a storefront in Uptown while on my way to a recent gallery show. As you can see it’s an open letter to the People of Oakland, but the rest of the photo is a little hard to read so I’ve included the poster’s inspiring text below. Though not technically signed, it looks to be the work of Oakland’s Guardian Angel whom I first wrote about in my story on Kuhl Frames.

oakland guardian angel, oakland's guardian angel

TO THE PEOPLE OF OAKLAND

Dear Friends:
It is up to you what the future of Oakland will be. Oakland is no longer a village. It is a city, a growing one. It is your duty to keep it growing, keep it prosperous.

Oakland, with its wealth, beauty and brilliant future, is an ideal attained by pioneers who struggled for years over innumerable hardships. The cement, the steel, the mortar and glass and the thousand and one things which go into Oakland, was not conceived overnight.

I realize the future of Oakland is far beyond human imagination. I thank you for your wonderful work. So partake of her hospitality and prosperity; invest, build, prosper, and live happy in Oakland.

“So partake of her hospitality and prosperity; invest, build, prosper, and live happy in Oakland.” I like that.

Thank YOU Guardian Angel!

Freedom Songs at Studio Grand

After doing everything and anything I could to take advantage of last weekend’s gorgeous sunshine, balmy temperatures, and springtime blooms, I could have easily planted myself on the couch to rest my weary bones in front of some mindless TV. But I opted instead to hit this show–solo even, since I could find no other takers on a Sunday night–and I’m so glad I did.

Not just for the show, which was beautiful, inspiring, and quite moving. But also for the introduction to Studio Grand, a space about which I am incredibly excited. It’s the kind of place I’ve fantasized about creating for a long time… a gallery, no… a performance space, no… a community art center. Oh sweet Jesus, it’s all of the above! I can’t wait to learn more and explore some of their super-interesting upcoming offerings.

But on to Sunday’s show…
IMG_9266

Freedom Songs was listed in my Friday post about weekend activities to celebrate Black History Month, and is the one event I attended. It featured four local Bay Area vocalists (Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin, Kimiko Joy) performing selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul.

I arrived just in time for the second set which highlighted mostly contemporary works by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke (by way of Mahalia Jackson), Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Mos Def, and more. My guess is that the first half focused on more of the early gospels and folk songs, and I’m sorry to have missed this.

Each woman in turn performed a song of her choosing, perhaps giving a little history of the song and why she selected it. The set transitioned from songs of struggle during the civil rights movement (Too Slow, A Change Is Gonna Come, Someday We’ll All Be Free, and Visions), to songs of celebration (Golden, Tree of Life, and Shine A Light).

It’s hard to describe how touching these performances were. My words can’t convey the power of these women’s voices and the heart and love that they projected into the crowd. The song that really got me was right in the middle of the show, rounding out the songs of struggle with one emphasizing disappointment, yet still so full of hope.

It’s one of the less well-known songs from Stevie Wonder’s wildly popular and seminal album Innervisions, which featured such hits as Too High, Living for the City, and Higher Ground, and garnered several Grammy’s including Album of the Year.  It is considered by many to be one of his greatest and most important works, addressing such issues as “drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream.”(wikipedia).

Visions is the mournful embodiment of this last issue, and Amy Lacour’s rendition brought tears to my eyes. Here are the lyrics for those who aren’t familiar with it…

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last
Have we really gone this far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I’m not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around

I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I’d like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

The current gallery exhibit Abstracts in the Way of Being by Todd Thomas Brown, though difficult to fully appreciate at night, seemed the perfect backdrop for this show, with bold abstracts in striking reds and blacks. The vocalists were all accompanied by the incredibly soulful stylings of pianist Joe Warner. And the show culminated with a group performance including all four of these beautiful women, encouraging the crowd to sing along.

I was singing all the way to my car… in my head as I went to bed that night… and on into this week. I want to thank Studio Grand for hosting an excellent show, and to all of these courageous artists for sharing their hearts with us!

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