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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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!