The Creator Has a Master Plan
Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Prescott Joseph Center we honored the legacy of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premiere artists: Berkeley resident Joy Holland and Oaklander by way of St. Louis Casper Banjo, with featured artist Keith Hopkins, another Oaklander. The exhibit, titled “Breath of Our Ancestors,” is an opportunity to meet a woman whom one guest tonight said sounded like Fanny Lou Hamer, Harriett Tubman and Ida B. Wells rolled into one. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the work of internationally acclaimed artist Casper Banjo who was taken from us too soon, last year, when he was shot not far from his home in October as he took his evening walk.
Stories of Joy’s banner on the side of her home with the words “No Son-of-a-Bush,” walks through the neighborhood where talk of her fearlessness spread. No one bothered Joy. Ava said she hadn’t shed a tear since her mom passed months ago … perhaps, she said, because her mother’s spirit lives. Her brother Tajmal echoed these sentiments later on.
TheArthur Wright spoke of his good friend Casper Banjo, an internationally well-known artist, whose passing was such a surprise. Shot by a policeman, the exact circumstances are still unknown as the police refuse to release their report to the family. Casper’s material was brick – an unusual medium, but one the St. Louis native knew well. Mary Rudge, poet laureate for the City of Alameda, spoke of Casper fondly, his love of all art – literary, visual and performance – and how he didn’t let his gender or race keep him from participating in art shows or gatherings.
Avotcja spoke of her relationship with Casper, who was “a trickster,” portrayed as Anansi in African tales, Brer Rabbit in African folk tales here in America – Elegba in the Yoruba tradition.
“He was such a personality – outrageous and fun,” Avotcja said about her friend, who went to college and high school with her. Casper’s family relocated to Oakland where he graduated from Oakland Tech. She and Casper taught at Laney College and were participants in an artist center not far from Prescott Joseph Center – Seventh and Peralta. Avotcja said Oakland needed more places like this now: free, accessible art spaces where artists could get together and hang their work.
Mary Rudge said she thought often of how she’d like to have an exhibit where bricks were the medium – a brick wall. She said bricks were a material used by cultures throughout the world. Casper told me of a suit he made from fabric stenciled with brick patterns he created. The medium was certainly durable – bricks, reminiscent of the earth and its inhabitants … human beings the newcomers, clay a lot older.
TheArthur spoke of his friend. He said Casper was everywhere there was art. Even once he had heart surgery and suffered from depression, the humor and playfulness associated with Casper was well known. TheArthur explained how Casper was a friend and a mentor because he comes late to painting, his first love or medium writing. (TheArthur is well known for his painting with bleach of images of Queen Califia.)
It was great hearing the stories about the artists. Ava shared her mother’s poetry and Avoctja played a DVD she’d made from a performance in 1991 at La Peña Cultural Center where Joy and the ensemble Black Poets with Attitudes – Joy Holland, Avotcja, Abimbola Adama, Beverly Jarrett and Wanda Sabir – performed. “We were better than good!” Avotcja said later on. She’d previewed the entire show and pulled out the two segments of Joy’s.
Seeing Joy reciting her poems – “The Key” and “Port Chicago” and her love poem – brought back so many wonderful memories. I recalled Joy’s periodic phone calls and cards and articles in the mail. She’d clip articles I wrote and send them to me for my records. She’s also called me to encourage me to continue writing or to ask how she could help with many of the poetry events I put on.
Casper did the same thing. I’m so sorry I never took him up on his many invitations to write a story about his many exhibitions. I didn’t realize until later how great an artist he was. I just knew he was everywhere and his spirit was gentle and kind and encouraging. I think one of my best visits was once when I was on the 57 bus and he and I shared a ride from MacArthur BART to Eastmont and we had a chance to talk. Riding public transportation is a great way to slow down. For once I wasn’t in control and had to give that aspect of the journey over to someone else and thus I was able to enjoy visiting with a wonderful man, a man I respected.
Casper’s body of work spans historic and more recent events and topics, such as a recent piece, “Katrina,” painted September 2005. Using graphite, printmaking and embossing, he also drew or painted work celebrating his family, like his nephews and mother, Lucy.
Joy was also multitalented. Ava mentioned how her mother began writing during the time she was caretaker of her parents, whom she refused to put in a convalescent home, until after quitting her job to take care of them, the task grew too much for her to handle. Her paintings were something her children Ava and Taj and their deceased sibling grew up watching their mother do. When I met Joy, I guess 20 or so years ago, she was a poet, painter and clothes designer. Did I mention activist and teacher?
She and I taught poetry workshops at Longfellow Elementary School, just up the street from her home. The children wrote poetry, made books and then performed for the school. She loved children, evident in her relationship with her grandchildren and the youth in the neighborhood.
Joy’s advocacy and work to revitalize the more well known of California’s Black towns, Allensworth, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last weekend, Oct. 11-12, 2008, was known. She was one of the reasons why I wanted to make the pilgrimage last week. It was my way of saying thank you. Even though the town was dusty, its large fields barren, except for the replicas of old buildings like the old library, Col. Allensworth’s house, the school, barbershop, town store and pharmacy, plus homes of prominent citizens, many of them friends of the colonel and other prominent citizens, its history is undeniable. And I hadn’t known Allensworth was in the desert and the land was sold to Allensworth and the other founders because they were expected to fail.
The Buffalo Soldiers were present Saturday when we attended the celebration. Mary Rudge recalled her stop at the town another Founder’s Day years ago – it was a special stop on her trip from Southern California back north. The Amtrak conductor told his passengers the detour was for passengers headed to the felicitations. The fact that the train was rerouted was one of many factors that killed a town which, as I said, no one ever expected to thrive. When Col. Allensworth bought the land with other founders, it wasn’t expected that the descendents of enslaved Africans would make an oasis in the desert, but they did, despite hostile responses from Tulare County leadership and some residents.
“It was Klan country,” Avoctja said, “yet these Black people made a way out of no way and built their town. They weren’t trying to prove anything to white people. They did this for themselves. This same fearlessness is characteristic of Joy Holland and Eddie Abrams who almost singlehandedly stopped Tulare County from issuing permits to dairy farmers who were going to bring cows into the county just across the road from Allensworth.
It is Joy Holland and Eddie Abrams’ commitment to keeping this town and its revival paramount that forms the basis of its going from a barren field to a slowly growing installation which has the potential of complete revitalization. Presently, the town of Allensworth is still uninhabitable; there still isn’t any running water, electricity. One can camp at Allensworth State Park, but why anyone would want to is questionable.
As we drove through the town last Saturday, it looked like the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans – the only thing, there was no hurricane. But the unnatural elements, racism and structural violence, struck this Black town the same way. Neglect and policies of exclusion keep the Lower 9th and Allensworth from accessing government resources which would enable both to rebuild. Just as in Allensworth, for miles and miles all on sees in the Lower 9th are empty fields, boarded up homes, weeds, peopled sparsely present in trailers. In Allensworth, if you didn’t know you were in California, you’d think you were in Mississippi or Louisiana.
Our other artist, Keith Hopkins, attempted to call me, but I didn’t hear the phone ring, and so those at the reception were unable to hear from him. Keith Hopkins work can be viewed at http://healourpeople.com/index.html. I also had an interview with Keith some time ago on my radio show: Visit http://wandaspicks.com, click the links and check Oct. 3. It was a Friday.
The show is up through the end of the month, Oct. 31, at 920 Peralta St. in Oakland, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The community organization is closed on weekends again now that the play “Ebony and Johnny” has concluded. Admission is free. For information about Prescott Joseph, call (510) 208-5651 or visit http://maafasfbayarea.com. (Look at the blog for photos from the reception. You can also leave comments.)
Oakland International Film Festival
Last night I went to the closing of the Seventh Annual Oakland International Film Festival. I attended the screening of “Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome,” directed by Robert Patton-Spruill, produced by Lathan Hodge. It was a great history of the genre through a profile of a group: Chuck D, Professor Griff and Flavor Flav, plus the men in the fatigues who added an edge to the shows: “This is entertainment, but we’re serious.” I liked when Chuck D said Public Enemy was hip hop for adults. He said he didn’t want to be at a party dancing next to a 14-year-old kid.
It was like “rock the mind, and free the spirit,” something I could see as the director captured both in front of and behind the camera the personalities of the men and the intricacies of their relationships – both good and bad, yet all in process and revolutionary or ever changing, ultimately for the better.
I went into the film not knowing much about the group, except what I’ve read in “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” and what I’ve watched on YouTube. I didn’t know the music or that all the men were raised politically in the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party. There is a scene where all the men pray together – the Al Fatiha that I remember reciting before we left home as a kid. The Nation of Islam has had a significant impact on Black culture in ways that is not documented except every now and then as ancillary to a larger project, such as this film on dynamic hip hop artists on their 20th anniversary tour.
I had an interview with producer Lathan Hodge on my radio show earlier this week (Oct. 15, second half. Check the links at http://wandaspicks.com.) Hodge said the DVD will be out next year. I am looking forward to it. I am thinking about teaching a course on Public Enemy in the spring … stay tuned. What I liked about Chuck D and Professor Griff was the fact that they were creative and positive and revolutionary and drug and substance free. Flavor Flav commented on this a few times. The model of sober consciousness is portrayed at its highest level here. They came of age at a time when everyone was getting high and going to prison, yet Chuck D went to college and he and his friends developed a popular and innovative radio show at their college which they moved into the mainstream and developed into a sound and their group, Public Enemy. It’s a great model of socially responsible and responsive art. Visit www.publicenemy.com/.
I just love the titles of the songs and albums, like “How Do You Sell Soul to a Soulless People” and “No Son of a Bush” … reminded me of the sign in front of Joy Holland’s house. It made me think about how long the Bush family has been in office – it feels like forever. I remember the poetic protest I hosted when Bush stole the election for the second time. I was recently hired on as full-time faculty at the College of Alameda and residents on the island were calling our president and complaining that I wasn’t allowing people happy with Bush’s second term to speak. I was, but I guess they sensibly decided to remain silent (smile).
I also like the title “Fear of a Black Planet” and the repetition of the line “Revolution means change.” As I listened to the preamble to certain songs, one introduction addressed the use of the term “public enemy.” Black men, young Black men, as the enemy of the U.S. government, Chuck D said. And I thought, it’s the same as the term “Menace to Society,” a film starring Ice Cube. And 20 years later, young Black men still are enemies to American society. What a shame, especially for those young men who agree.
Shanique S. Scott brings her solo show “Prisons” to the Black Repertory stage, 3201 Adeline St., in Berkeley, this weekend: Friday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m., Saturday afternoon and early evening, 2:30 and 5 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 18, 5 p.m. Call (510) 652-2120 or visit www.blackrepretorygroup.com. Tickets are $15 to $25 and available at the door. I had the playwright on the air this morning in the final half hour, 9:30-10:10 a.m. Again click on the links at http://wandaspicks.com. There is a review at http://wandasabir.blogspot.com (see September 2008 archives).
Joanna Haigood, Zaccho Dance Company in ‘San Francisco Trolley Dances’
Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Company performs in Epiphany Productions’ Fifth Annual Festival of Site-Specific Dance Performances along Muni’s new T-Third line Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18 and 19, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are guided performance tours of this free event which leave from the Mission Bay Branch Library at 960 Fourth St. at Berry every 45 minutes starting at 11 a.m. and take one and a half hours to complete. The last tour leaves at 2:45 p.m. Performances are free with a valid Fast Pass or one-time fare of $1.50.
Led by volunteer guides, audience members get on and off the trolley at specific stations to view the pieces, which are set in unexpected outdoor locations along the T-Third line. Each of the participating dance companies has selected a site along the route and created a new 10 to 12-minute piece that, in some way, responds to the physical environment or interprets the culture, history or intended use of the specific site.
The public should be aware that spaces on each performance tour are limited and are assigned on a first come first served basis for that day only at the starting point of the event. Last year, tours filled early in the day. Bicyclists, however, can make use of a new do-it-yourself bike route map to each location that can be picked up at the event’s starting point at the Mission Bay Branch Library.
The public also stands to watch the performances, and there is some moderate walking required to reach each performance site. All sites are wheelchair accessible. Anyone wanting to go directly to the site where Zaccho is performing is invited to come directly to the Bayview Opera House. Zaccho’s performances will occur several times between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. dependent on the arrival of the T-Line trolley car transporting those audience members who’ve chosen to enjoy the entire set of San Francisco Trolley Dances performers. The wait between Zaccho performances at the Bayview Opera House will not exceed 30-45 minutes. Saturday afternoon, about 4 p.m., after the last performance there will be a reception at the Bayview Opera House. Visit www.epiphanydance.org/ and www.zaccho.org/.
The Living Word Project
The Living Word Project opens this weekend, with a free concert at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Gardens at 12-12:30 p.m. Friday with a concert featuring Goapele and the Kev Choice Ensemble. Tomorrow there is a free concert featuring Mos Def; check Ankh Productions. Also tomorrow there is a graffiti battle at DeFremery Park, 18th and Adeline in Oakland, along with other events. The article cited below says Mos Def will be at DeFremery Park tomorrow. The concert in the City has a huge line-up, so it is certainly possible he is performing at both. Should be great fun.
The Living Word Festival begins 10 a.m. Friday at the Museum of the African Diaspora – workshops and performances co-hosted by SF Green Festival, Global Exchange and Grind for the Green; concert at 12:30 p.m. in the Yerba Buena Gardens, 760 Howard St., San Francisco, with Goapele, Urban Word NYC and the Kev Choice Ensemble. Saturday is the “red black and GREEN” environmental caucus and concert from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at DeFremery Park, 1651 Adeline St., featuring Mos Def, Los Rakas and DJ Leydis. This is also the second annual Living Word Graffiti Battle, Bamboo Architecture and “Against Eco-Apartheid” speaker series. For details and a full list of events, visit www.youthspeaks.org or call (415) 255-9035. Visit www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_10729793.
Jon Hendricks honored
There is a Marin Art and Jazz Festival this weekend, Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 18-10, 10-6 each day at 750 Lindaro St., San Rafael, (415) 454-8466 . I didn’t know until really late in the game that a sister was putting this on, and then I was out of time and space. But if you can fit yet another thing into your schedule, go by the festival and support the sister and the artistic legacy of Jon Hendricks, a man who took the human voice as instrument to an entirely different level. Among his creative offspring are Bobby McFerrin and Sweet Honey in the Rock and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Ensemble, to mention just a few.
It wasn’t acoustic music; it was voice as instrument, one equal to other mechanical instruments in the ensemble. It is a respect song stylists are still thanking him for … as well as their audiences. Visit www.cityofsanrafael.org/Special_Events_Calendar/Marin_Art___Jazz_Festival_10_18_-_10_19.htm?DateTime=633599688600000000&PageMode=View, www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=23977 and http://events.sfgate.com/san-rafael-ca/events/show/84695342-marin-art-jazz-festival.
MoAD Family Day Sunday, Oct. 19
This Sunday, admission to the Museum of the African Diaspora is free. There will be poetry by Youth Speaks poets and storytelling with Awele Makeba, plus other hands-on activities. The theme is the Harlem Renaissance, in conjunction with a new exhibit, “The Hewitt Collection of African American Art,” which also opens this weekend. Visit www.moadsf.org/.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website and blog at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her photos and her radio show plus exciting “web exclusives.”