Category Archives: political art

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…
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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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Get Your Black History Month On…

black history month quotes

There’s just one week left. So if you haven’t yet done something to honor our black brothers and sisters of Oakland, here are a slew of diverse and interesting options to choose from this weekend…

Friday – 2/21

  • African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Main Branch 125 14th St., Oakland 510-238-3134

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Saturday – 2/22

  • Black History Month Walking Tour (10am – 12pm)

    FREE downtown walking tours highlighting African-American leaders who helped shape present-day Oakland. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley and Marcus Foster changed the city and the Bay Area. Simply meet at AAMLO shortly before 10am to participate.
    African American Museum and Library at Oakland – 659 14th St.
    510-238-3234  www.oaklandnet.com

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Black Vines: A Toast to Black Wineries & Diverse Art (1pm – 4pm)

    The third annual celebration of art, culture, and wine, bringing together African American artists and vintners. Tickets presale $30; door $40 purchase tickets here
    Betti Ono Gallery – 1427 Broadway, Oakland 94612

    African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Montclair Branch 1687 Mountain Blvd., Oakland 510-482-7810

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Sunday 2/23

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Freedom Songs: Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin & Kimiko Joy (6:30pm – 8:30pm)

    Four Bay Area vocalists in the round featuring selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul. 6pm doors, $10-15 suggested donation
    2013 Studio Grand – 3234 Grand Avenue, Oakland 94610