As artists rooted in the community we come from a tradition of creating spaces for ourselves y para nuestra gente so that our art can thrive and evolve.
I grew up in East Oakland and my early exposure to art was via Chicano community-based artists who taught free art workshops in my neighborhood. If it were not for them, I would not have found my creative path. As a child. museums were often destinations for school field trips— and they usually felt like uninviting spaces for young brown kids like myself. Although I have always been creative, and excited about seeing art in whatever its manifestations, museums at times made me feel exotic and like an "other." I remember sometimes feeling lost when I saw "artifacts" of my indigenous past. I would only see brown people like me in a historical context, rarely in a contemporary one.
Despite that, as an artsy child, I would spend hours staring at the art on the walls in the museum trying to figure out how things were made. As I grew older and transitioned into a professional artist, I realized that museums around the country had an institutionalized practice of consistently shutting out people of color, indigenous people, women and queer folks. As the Guerilla Girls famously once said, if you are a woman, its easier to get into a museum if you are naked than if you are a woman artist. Women and men of color make up a tiny minority in the collections of museums around the country, a practice that is reflective of a white patriarchal society that for centuries seeped into the practices of cultural institutions. I developed a critical consciousness around museums as I never saw themes that were salient to my own experience as a woman of color, daughter of immigrants, and indigenous person.
Today, the critique has been around museums and their collections of predominantly European white men has become a catalyst for change. It's a fact that museums around the country are realizing that in order to survive, they must also be relevant to their local communities and to the public at large. So many of them are shifting into an alternative way of serving what is called "emerging audiences," which usually means audiences of color, immigrants, youth, and the populations which are now a majority. It's imperative that museums serve our communities, because if they don't, they will gradually become obsolete spaces. That's especially true in California where Latinos and Asians make up the majority in 20 years. Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a space that is tackling the issues of the local community, and implementing innovative practices and programming. They have actually been doing this for a while. They are a model of how a museum can serve as a gathering space for everyone. One fond memory I have is back from 2004 when my students in a graffiti arts program I was co-directing at the time built an altar for Day of the Dead. The groundbreaking exhibit, African Presence in Mexico, was also recently at OMCA this past Summer.
Earlier this year the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) approached me to curate and design a public art wall to display around their perimeter as they undergo renovations. OMCA is undergoing a process in which they have been re-evaluating and re-envisioning how they can become a cultural and creative center for not just the Oakland community, but the entire state. They are implementing a new master plan as they become a space for the critical exchange of ideas. Part of this revamp is the remodeling of the space that will make it more inviting to community members. They are closed until May 2010, but in the meantime this wall is an opportunity for the public to interact with the new OMCA. (Here is the wall before the piece went up)
This wall was a huge undertaking for me. It’s a collaborative effort between 20 artists from across the state of California. The vision for the wall was to share a larger narrative of California’s history, its ecosystems, its patterns of immigration, and political history (including the Black Panther Party and the United Farm Workers), and its various subcultures (such punk rock music, bikers, graffiti). I wanted to bring in artists that represented the different communities in California—young, veteran, queer, urban, environmental. As a curator, I brought my experience as a woman of color and mostly worked with other artists of color and paid special attention to working with women artists.
And because the museum is in Oakland, I wanted to express the warmth of Oakland’s art community. Check out the pictures below. (All photos by Rue Flaherty & Adam Rozan)
Some of the team members that made this project possible.
The wall being installed by the OMCA staff.
The piece was designed digitally and installed on large 4 x 8 ft. panels.
Close up of the wall. Displayed here from left to right: Lips by Minette Mangahas, Yellow & White painting by Amanda Williams, Black Panthers by Emory Douglas, Portrait of graffiti writer, Refa, by Brett Cook.
I’m really excited and proud of this project. I think that it’s a huge step forward when a museum can take a critical look in the mirror and make drastic steps to become a model institution. The wall is outside the museum and can be viewed on Oak St. between 10th and 11th. Check out all the artists that worked on this project:
Emory Douglas (San Francisco) Former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther party, from February, 1967 until the early 1980’s.
Shizu Saldamando (Los Angeles) Japanese-American/Chicana born and raised in San Francisco's Mission district and received MFA from California Institute of the Arts.
Estria Miyashiro (Oakland) Graffiti king, instructor, local entrepreneur, and master painter behind some of Oakland's dopest walls.
Amanda Williams (Oakland) has cultivated an art form that combines her spatial sensibilities with her love of color. The results are a signature style of colorful, layered compositions and installations that merge fragments of unrelated documents, text and imagery.
Minette Mangahas (East Bay) The work of Minette Mangahas is about MOVEMENT, and the tension and attraction of difference. It's about the freedom that can come from embracing what is born in-between, what we do not know, and sometimes what we fear.
Bayeté Ross Smith (San Francisco) is an artist, photographer and arts educator. He began his career as a photojournalist, working with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Charlotte Observer and Newsday, in New York City.
Jesus Barraza (East Bay) is an activist printmaker who has worked closely with numerous community organizations creating prints that deal with issues of immigration, homelessness, education, indignity, and international solidarity movements.
Melanie Cervantes (East Bay) creates a powerful visual language to declare that a peaceful, sustainable and just world is possible. She is an artist trained by library books, family, peers and experimentation. Melanie has made a life long commitment to being an artist for the people.
Man One (Los Angeles) is a leading urban muralist/artist enhancing the definition of art today. He owns and runs Crewest, the only L.A. based gallery dedicated to the upliftment of Graffiti Art.
Juan Fuentes (San Francisco) has been an artist and cultural activist in the San Francisco, community for over thirty years and a mentor to many young emerging artists. His early poster art is now part of the Chicano Poster Movement.
Keba Konte (Oakland) Konte’s experimental approach to image making led him to the unique photomontage on wood technique and while Konte has worked in a number of mediums, this is the style for which he is best known. Konte also co-established and co-owns the Guerilla cafe in North Berkeley.
Ernesto Yerena (Los Angeles) Ernesto Yerena Montejano was born in the small border town of El Centro, California. The constant crossing of the border gave Ernesto a unique perspective and in his eyes the best of both worlds; the free education of the first world and the cultural richness and authenticity of the third world.
John Carr (Los Angeles) John Carr is a Los Angeles based artist working primarily with graphic images and printmaking. His themes center around promoting peace, higher consciousness and having a sense of humor in a world gone mad. He is the curator of a touring anti-war poster exhibition titled "Yo! What Happened to Peace?".
WERC (San Diego) Explores aspects of duality and the politics of identity in his paintings. Inspirations come from broad issues of labor, the Juarez Femicides, logos, symbolism, architecture, urbanization, and the humor and nostalgia in specific immigrant cultures.
Geraldine Lozano (San Diego) was born in the Amazon jungle of Perú. In defying acts of shamanism, she transforms ancient rituals, redefines traditions and dissolves the aspects of time, to relinquish a re-conditioning of social constructs and self prescribed ideologies. Using mediums of film, photography, printmaking and design, she emphasize the imagination being an attribute of our soul not our mind."
Brett Cook (Berkeley) creates a spectrum of objects, experiences, and feelings that defy classification in any singular discipline. Brett’s work will fall into countless ratios in between such extremes, as both one signature and countless hands working to relieve suffering in the world.
Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca (Los Angeles) is a visual artist and writer. Gustavo created the acclaimed books Interstellar Transmissions, The Hidden Infinities and The Multiple Entrance. His artwork is exhibited in art galleries and museums around the world.
Traci Bartlow (Oakland) is a folk photographer who started her visual arts craft photographing her neighbors in East Oakland. This came at a unique time in her life when she had returned to Oakland after living in New York City and traveling internationally as a performer. She returned to the Bay and saw her home town through new eyes and was compelled to document it’s unique strength on film.
Elaine Su-Hui Chew (Oakland) Elaine Su-Hui Chew is an Australian artist of Chinese-Malaysian heritage currently living and working in Oakland, California. Her imagery involves constellations, geography, household fragments and symbols to evoke ideas of memory, place, time and universality from a cross-cultural perspective. She is currently an artist-in-residence at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.
Favianna Rodriguez (Oakland) is an artist-entrepreneur who has helped foster resurgence in political arts both locally and internationally. Favianna curated this project.