by Wanda Sabir
Her story: Occupy San Quentin
When the beautiful sister smiled shyly at me as I, as unobtrusively as possible, took her photo while she waited to speak at Occupy San Quentin, I wasn’t prepared for what she shared, that is, her experience in solitary confinement which still affects her today, years since her release. Kelly shared how she was uncomfortable in large assemblies with strangers. What it must have taken for her to get to the prison that afternoon, the walk from the road where heavily armed police and prison guards stood or sat in patrol cars and on motorcycles blocking all highway entrances! Yes, it was literally overkill, with a helicopter keeping us under scrutiny as the prison grounds beyond the gate where at the eastern entrance, green clad guards filmed us from the rooftops where they stood or sat silently for the entire rally.
When the rally ended, San Rafael police followed us to the Richmond Bridge. I don’t know if it was Jabari Shaw’s orange CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) jumpsuit that kept them wondering – Is he an escapee, one of ours? – or if it was the sheer magnitude of fearlessness represented by women like this former prisoner who would not let her traumatic experience silence her.
When the rally ended, San Rafael police followed us to the Richmond Bridge. I don’t know if it was Jabari Shaw’s orange CDCR jumpsuit that kept them wondering – Is he an escapee, one of ours? – or if it was the sheer magnitude of fearlessness represented by women like this former prisoner who would not let her traumatic experience silence her.
Similarly Deirdre Wilson and a young sister, Tati Session, who spoke from the perspective of the incarcerated youth, who, if not silenced, often self-censor, make irrevocable deals with the devil in khaki or green, maybe grey or tan, because they do not know their legal rights. A few men and women broke down on stage – I can’t imagine what they suffered physically or emotionally or spiritually. Deirdre lost her children while she was locked up. She mentioned how the young woman next to her could be her daughter. Deirdre also mentioned how if she hadn’t had a family who had the money to hire an attorney, she might still be behind bars.
There was a brother who got so full looking at the guards on the other side of the gate watching that he looked like he was going to leap the gate and hurt someone as he recalled the violations of his person over and over again. It was lovely to see how members of All of Us or None dropped everything to embrace him when he left the stage. Manuel La Fontaine reached him first. Soon he was laughing the chains off and smiling at his victory. Ali of Occupy Oakland’s presence that day on the other side of the gate meant he’d won, as his enemy, a literal stone’s throw away, stood silently observing a free man.
The fact that co-hosts Dorsey Nunn and Linda Evans, both former prisoners, were also standing free meant justice, even in her crippled state, has had once again, the last word. But the conversation isn’t over, not at all, because as we lifted our voices in mic-checks, we were not sure if the men could hear us out there. However, with each victory we know that truth wins even when falsehood gets the better commercial slot at half-time.
The presence of members of the San Quentin Six – Willie Sundiata Tate, Luis Talamantez and David Johnson – outside San Quentin gates that breezy, yet warm afternoon, Presidents Day 2012, awakened sleeping giants – the many men whose lives were vindicated by this Occupy San Quentin action. Sundi spoke about Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi) who has been in solitary confinement for 40 years, the last 12-plus in Pelican Bay’s SHU, and the need to release him. Sixty-six years old, Pinell has not had a disciplinary write up in over 30 years. He is incarcerated for his presence that fateful day at the Marin Courthouse when Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson’s kid brother, decided to make justice take off her blindfold and look at the travesty at her feet.
Sundi spoke about Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi) who has been in solitary confinement for 40 years, the last 12-plus in Pelican Bay’s SHU, and the need to release him. Sixty-six years old, Pinell has not had a disciplinary write up in over 30 years. He is incarcerated for his presence that fateful day at the Marin Courthouse when Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson’s kid brother, decided to make justice take off her blindfold and look at the travesty at her feet.
Here they were again, waking Justice from her slumber. Girl gets tired easily, it seems.
I was happy so many youth realized the importance of this moment. Don Juan and I spoke about it on the bus ride home when I showed him the cool photo I shot of the three men before they went on the stage – there they were chillin’ with the folks, on stage with Melvin Dickerson, Commemorator publisher, holding a poster of George Jackson, the caption: “Human.” Enough said, right? Civil rights don’t buy much now, if ever. The rights to have, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer said, echoed by John Hope Franklin and Michelle Alexander more recently in her treatise, “The New Jim Crow,” are human rights, which trump all the others even those implicit in the term democracy, an ideal this nation still hasn’t reached.
Joyce Gordon Gallery
“SheRose: A Tribute to Michelle Obama,” curated by Eric Murphy, will be on exhibit at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Oakland, March 2-April 17. Special programs are scheduled for March 2 and 18, April 5, 7 and 14. Call (510) 465-8928.
A belated happy birthday to Mrs. Samella Lewis, Ph.D., born Feb. 24, 1924, a wonderful artist and art preservationist, whom I met at CAAM in Los Angeles when I was there last November. She was one of the featured artists who happened to be giving a talk the day I arrived. Talk about perfect timing. She started galleries to show Black art and published the first African American art journal out of her own resources. In fact, at Claremont College’s Scripps College, there is an endowment in her name to help Black women artists in their pursuits. Dr. Lewis was the first tenured Black faculty in 1970. I didn’t realize that her grandson, Freedom, and my younger daughter TaSin founded the Black Artists and Designers (BAAD) at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Joyce Gordon Gallery has named a gallery “From the Collection of Samella Lewis.” She has an exhibit opening in LA February that continues at the Louis Stern Fine Art Gallery in West Hollywood through April 21.
‘Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis’ opens Women of Color Conference
For the first time in history, iconic activists Grace Lee Boggs, now 96, and Angela Davis will share the stage for a conversation entitled “On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis” on Friday, March 2, 4-6 p.m., in the Pauley Ballroom, University of California, Berkeley. The event will open with filmmaker Grace Lee screening a portion of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” a documentary in progress. In this historic event, Ms. Boggs and Ms. Davis will discuss their motivation for continuing their work and activism, presenting their ideas of social justice, healing and moving activism beyond the academy. Admission is free and open to the general public.
The 27th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference: A Holistic Approach: Justice, Access, and Healing
The annual Empowering Women of Color Conference is Saturday, March 3, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at UC Berkeley’s MLK Jr. Student Union. Admission is free for UC Berkeley students, $15 for non-UCB students and elders, $20 for the general public. Scholarships are available. For more information, visit ewocc.berkeley.edu. To register, go to https://ewocc.wordpress.com/registration/.
‘Toy Town: The Land of Lost Identities’
“Toy Town” is a Wizard of Oz-like journey into the mind of a teenage girl struggling with family pressures and the world’s woes. We follow her into a wild, magical land of lost dolls and action figures, all trapped in a mega superstore. If they can reclaim what they have lost, they and our heroine can find their way home. If not, all of them will be lost forever.
The production features the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, a multicultural group of teens who, with professional artists, create dynamic productions that combine hip hop, modern and aerial dance, theater, song and rap. The company has performed locally and nationally since 1993 for up to 25,000 audience members annually. This show will also feature guest appearances from the Destiny Junior Company. Saturday afternoon, there will be a silent auction in the theater lobby featuring exciting offerings from local restaurants, theaters, stores, artisans and family destinations. All proceeds benefit Destiny programs.
Shows are Friday, March 2, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 3, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m,. and Sunday, March 4, 5 p.m., at the Laney College Theatre, 900 Fallon St., Oakland. Tickets are $13-$30 sliding scale for adults, $6 for youth 18 and under, and are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or www.destinyarts.org. For information, call (510) 597-1619, ext. 100, or email email@example.com.
‘The Art of Living Black’ Open Studios
I was over at Mills College Feb. 26 for Open Studios. I saw great art from Karen Oyekanmi’s Josephine Baker dolls and hand painted mirrors to Sara Marie Prada’s lovely greeting cards – look out Hallmark! Ajuan Mance’s latest on-line sketchbook project: “1001 Black Men,” 1001 drawings in 1001 days, inspired by Black men everywhere. Visit 8-Rock.com. Ajuan will be a guest on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, Friday, March 2, 9:30 a.m.
Lorraine Bonner was one of the artists at Mills. I loved her ceramic sculpture with a little tiny person peeking from within the backbone of the host. She is so deep. I purchased a really nice cloth doll pin from Zanaib Nia Green. The pin, which is knit by the artist, looks like an orisha. Atiba Sylvia Thomas, one of my favorite artists – her plaques are so lovely – showed me a new series, really cool. No, I can’t recall the name. What I love most about her mixed media work, besides the prices, are the names. I took a photo of her standing next to a piece with his mouth open in a grimace – “Oh the pain” I think is the name – and it refers to the artist’s pain before hip or knee surgery. She is better now. Atiba and Kelvin Curry, Lorraine Bonner, Gwendolyn Reed, who has wonderful African American Heritage stamps and other stationary, watermelon lady Karin Turner will all be at The Art House at 6101 Foothill Blvd., Oakland, both Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4, 11 to 5. It was nice seeing Michael Johnson’s photographs and Shawn Weeden’s colorful cheery abstract work. Julee Richardson’s ceramic sculpture was really fine as well. Really intense – I wondered who the models are. Another artist, Desire Johnson, a poet as well as a visual artist, looked like she’d levitate – surrounded by fairy wings and flowers. The artist was dressed in white.
‘Blue/Orange’ at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre
This psychological thriller, at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre through March 18, is an excellent treatment of the dissonance between Black men and white men. There is this conversation going on in their heads which is so noisy, it is difficult, almost impossible, for white men, at least those on stage – physicians nonetheless – to separate themselves or unplug themselves from the program that makes life taste sweet when it is hard and bitter. It is as world actor Carl Lumbly’s “Christopher” knows all too well; perhaps this is why he sees blue oranges.
Set in England post everything racial, Christopher is about to be released from the mental hospital when we meet him. It has been 28 days and Dr. Bruce Flaherty (Dan Clegg) cannot find a reason to keep Christopher, even though he wants to, while the consultant, the elder, more experienced doctor, Robert Smith (Julian Lopez-Morillas) tells Dr. F that if he keeps Christopher too long he will become institutionalized and not be able to function outside the institution. Directed by Edris Cooper Anifowoshe, Joe Penhall’s smart play is in your head funny and startling with all the surprises a tight cast, marvelous set design, great lighting and original score bring to theatre.
“Blue/Orange” is based on a true story of the killing by a hospital in England of a Black patient and the subsequent internal investigative report that pointed to institutional racism as the culprit in the handling of this man. Though trainings in racial sensitivity were hosted and probably made mandatory in the true story, “Blue/Orange” ends with nothing resolved. If we look at the recent unrest in Britain, then nothing remains resolved there.
On the fly
The San Francisco World Percussion Arts Festival presents “Rhythm and Roots,” featuring Duniya Dance and Drum Company tabla virtuoso, Jim Santi Owen Award-winning dulcimer artist and percussionist Joe Venegoni, master shakuhachi artist Philip Gelb and Wontanara on Friday and Saturday, March 16-17, 8 p.m., Sunday, March 18, 6 p.m., at Dance Mission Theater, 24th Street at Mission Street in San Francisco. Tickets are $22 in advance or $25 at the door, available at www.brownpapertickets.com. Visit www.maikazedaiko.com.
SFJAZZ has some great concerts this month under the heading of Soulful Singers, an array of popular artists like Lizz Wright, Meklit Hedaro, James Blood Elmer, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Chrisette Michele, Ceu. When I last saw Michele, she was opening for James Brown at a concert in San Francisco. She was a power singer with great stage presence – truly a child of soul, funk and all that is in between. Visit www.sfjazz.org.
The San Francisco Asian American Film Festival also opens this month, March 8-18. Visit http://caamedia.org/festival/.
Disney on Ice presents “Toy Story 3,” making its Oakland debut this week at Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Feb. 29-March 4. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or online at ticketmaster.com. Visit www.YouTube.com/DisneyOnIce. There are three shows on the weekends, Tracy Taylor told me. He is African American and an assistant wardrobe person for the last 16 years. We had a great conversation last week when the show was opening in San Jose. It airs Wednesday, Feb. 29.
Cal Performances presents Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra on March 4, An Evening with Garrison Keillor March 7, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre March 13-18, and Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion March 24.
Check back periodically for updates, and don’t forget Wanda’s Picks Radio Show at www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks Wednesdays 6-7 a.m. and Friday mornings 8-10 a.m. PT. The shows are available via iTunes after the broadcasts as a podcast. You can also call the listener line: (347) 237-4610.
‘Question Bridge’ at Oakland Museum of California
Imagine Black men, multigenerational Black men, which includes Black boys, asking questions, listening, getting personal – opening themselves to vulnerability, shedding the façade, the hard edges and sharp points that often present barriers to intimacy, the kind of intimacy Black men need to traverse a space or terrain too often littered with warning signs, DO NOT TOUCH, LOOK, TRUST … certainly never BEFRIEND another man who looks like you.
Imagine suspending that judgment for an afternoon, and in the presence of an audience who might not understand the dilemma one faces daily when one is packaged like you are packaged, TRUST the process and build a bridge between oneself and the unknown Black man across the aisle, room, stage from oneself. This is what happened Feb. 11 at the Oakland Museum. Some of us were on a roll; we’d attended another program just days earlier here, the ITVS screening of the film, “The Interrupters,” a film debuting Feb. 14 on Frontline World, which looks at men and women who interrupt the violence on the streets of Chicago.
Black men as commodities are an inescapable and often scary phenomenon that the late artist Sekou Sundiata wrote about often. The innovative video installation, “Question Bridge,” features dialogue between 150 Black men recruited from 11 American cities and towns, many on that stage Saturday afternoon.
The project includes multiple video screens placed in two arcs in the Museum’s Gallery of California Art that will play videos of Black men responding to questions edited in a way so that it appears as if the men were having a conversation. Those who were at the OM that Saturday afternoon were able to see the dialectic process in action: “Question Bridge,” a unique project composed of taped interviews with Black men from across the nation. These men have an opportunity to ask questions, to answer questions they might have been mulling over for lifetimes. These interviews are a part of a multimedia exhibit in the Art History Gallery through July 8.
As I am not a Black man, I could not ask questions or participate in the conversation during or once the floor was opened for interaction. It felt beautiful sitting back listening and observing the interaction on stage and in the room as Black men were given the space and the time – albeit too short – to “work things out uninterrupted, uncensored and unapologetically.”
“Question Bridge” is directed by celebrated African-American artists Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas, in collaboration with Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair.
Friday, March 2, 8:30-9:30 a.m., on Wanda’s Picks Radio, we will be joined by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Smith and maybe Mr. Willis Thomas. For the past four years the four collaborators have traveled throughout the United States to towns and cities including Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Birmingham, Atlanta, New Orleans and Philadelphia creating 1,500 video exchanges in which the subjects serve as both interviewers and subjects – posing and answering each other’s questions that are woven together to simulate a stream-of-consciousness dialogue through which important themes and issues emerge.
Among subjects focused on are family, love, interracial relationships, community, education, violence and the past, present and future of Black men in American society. Represented are men from different geographic, economic, generational, educational and social strata of American society. The “Question Bridge” videos are a part of a larger project that also includes a user generated website, QuestionBridge.com, and a curriculum currently being offered to high schools and universities throughout the United States.
17th Anniversary Bay Area Cultural Festival: Diamano Coura West African Dance Company presents ‘Collage des Cultures Africaines’!
“Collage 2012 African Cultural Festival” on March 8-11 sets the stage to present an unprecedented roster of world class artists, master instructors, and dance and drum pioneers vital to cultivating the Bay Area’s cultural landscape. Located at the historic Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Diamano Coura boasts a 17-year presenting season with this year’s theme: “Knowledge Transporters.” “Our culture is strong and alive and it’s what binds the community,” says Artistic Director Naomi Gedo Diouf.
“Knowledge Transporters” celebrates teachers and cultural workers, honoring their works as cultural ambassadors. This year strives to highlight the community’s elders as invaluable resources planting seeds of wisdom feeding generations of communities nationwide. Attendees from over 10 major U.S. cities representing nine African and Diasporan countries make up the flourishing legacies of “Collage 2012.”
‘La Mujer en la Historia / The Woman in History’ at La Peña Cultural Center
This month La Peña celebrates women from around the world in performance, film, visual art and music. Saturday, March 10, is their International Women’s Month Celebration, “Mujer, te han crecido las ideas / Woman, your ideas are on the rise: Women’s Revolution in Latin American Song and Poetry.” It features singers Mama Koatl and Maria Loreto and poet Nina Serrano. Three outstanding Bay Area voices join forces to commemorate International Women’s Month and pay tribute to the woman of the world, guardian and creator of human hope. La Peña is proud to present this rare opportunity to enjoy a collaboration that fused together the styles, voices and work of creative and independent local women artists. The time is 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance, $16 at the door. La Peña Cultural Center is located at 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 849-2568, www.lapena.org.
Other La Peña picks
Sunday, March 18: Gail Dobson Latin Jazz Band presents “Generations of Music,” 7:30 p.m.: Latin jazz band with student guest artists. Tickets are $10 general admission, $5 for children 12 years and under.
Friday, March 23: In honor of Womyn’s Herstory Month, La Pena’s 2nd Gen presents “Where Water is Born / El Ojo del Agua,” a night of ceremony, poetry and song, featuring Luisa Leija, Claudia Cuentas, Celena Delphi, Lisa Evans, Mariposa, Laura Victoria Salazar and Antique. The show, at 8 p.m., is $5-$20 sliding scale, with an after party in the La Peña Lounge.
Saturday, March 31: Global Women Intact presents “Clitoris Celebration” with exquisite music from Africa. It’s a special fundraising event in celebration of Women’s Month. Global Women Intact is an organization that nurtures arts of the African diaspora and uses performance and presentations – including dance, music, theater, comedy and education – to raise awareness of the beauty and complexity of African cultures and their impact on health and well-being. In particular, GWI is devoted to raising awareness about female genital cutting (FGC) and provides alternative, arts-based and culturally appropriate rites of initiation that honor the intact and healthy bodies of girls and women. Visit www.siaamma.com. The time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the event. La Peña Cultural Center is located at 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 849-2568, www.lapena.org.
Bay Area Traditional Arts Roundtable Series 2012: Skill Building Workshops
Saturday, March 3, 1-3 p.m., Frances Philips, program director of the Arts and the Creative Work Fund at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, presents “Basic Grant Writing Skills for Folk and Traditional Artists and Organizations.” Frances, a creative writer and poet, also teaches grant writing at San Francisco State University as a faculty member of the Technical and Professional Writing Program. The workshop takes place at Oakland Museum of California, California Room, First Level, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, (510) 318-8400. Suggested donation is $20, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
On Saturday, March 31, 1-4 p.m., the “Work Sample Laboratory” is back by popular demand! One of the most important components of any grant proposal is the work sample. What do you need to consider when portraying your artistic expression for a grant submission? Is an audio sample the best choice for a musician, or should you be seen as well as heard on a DVD? How do you best portray material arts? What if your art form is participatory? Bring in your own work samples for gentle critique and viewing; and view and experience examples of successful and not so successful work samples. A panel of experienced arts and cultural grants reviewers will share their good practices and tips with you. The location is BAVC (Bay Area Video Coalition), 2727 Mariposa St., San Francisco, (415) 861-3282. Suggested donation is $20, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. For questions or to RSVP to either session, contact Lily Kharrazi at (415) 346-5200.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.