Friday, July 8, 2011

Black Diamonds Shining Collective Spreads Love at Oakland's Rock Paper Scissors Gallery

    When I walked into the Rock Paper Scissors Collective gallery in Oakland last Friday, the word that kept running through my mind was affirmation. It was what I felt when I looked at the intricate murals and installations that covered the walls from top to bottom. It was the work of Black Diamonds Shining, an "Oakland based afro galactic black arts collective" comprised of artists Ras Terms, Safety First, Deadeyes, Antjuan Jones, Brooks Golden (Be Golden), and Larry Dobie.

    The best thing about gazing upon the work of these artists is that it serves as a reminder of our humanity and our beauty as people. I can't tell you how many times I stumbled across their work and it caused me to hold my head a little bit higher, or put a smile on my face and remember where I came from. The message they deliver is a powerfully positive one.

     The way that BDS transformed this space truly has to be seen to be believed. There are messages and images in every corner, and they all come together to form a beautiful narrative.
    Another wonderful thing about this collaborative work is how seamlessly it is woven together in this space. It's hard to tell where on artist's contribution begins and another ends.

 Iconography of the African Diaspora and the message of ancestral reverence is strong throughout the mural, as evidenced by an area dedicated to elder and ancestor movers and shakers  like Octavia E. Butler, George Clinton, and Malcolm X.

The Bay is home to some amazing graffiti and street artists, and they definitely have a unique aesthetic that celebrates the diverse cultures and natural beauty of the Bay Area. There are giant wheat pasted drawings of owls and foxes done with intricate detail, stencil pieces of cowrie shells and legendary afro beat musician Fela Kuti (shout out to ESU), and writing urging people to rise up and take a stand.    

You can keep up with the work of Black Diamonds Shining Collective on their Tumblr page

You can view more graffiti and murals by Bay Area artists on Endless Canvas . And if you're in the Bay, don't miss the show at Rock Paper Scissors, 2278 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland. They're open Weds. through Sunday, 12-7pm 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Soul Food: "The Gods Must Be Crazy--Reviving The Black Supernatural Experience'

There is a cultural renaissance taking place in Oakland. Creative people are coming together to not only support each other and collaborate as artists, but also to find ways to make positive things happen in the community. '"The Gods Must Be Crazy"--Reviving the Black Supernatural Experience', a two part event presented by Top Ten Social kicked off at Oakland's Fox Theater Thursday evening with a panel discussion featuring singer Jennifer Johns, spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and DJ Rich Medina. Each artist (along with moderator Abel Habtegeorgis and host Ashara Ekundayo) lent a unique perspective, and what was most refreshing about this panel was the optimistic outlook of the speakers. Each has played a major part in the creative landscape for quite some time, so they had a lot of insight not only into the problems faced within the arts and our society but also solutions. There were many wonderful ideas presented, I thought I would share some of my notes with yall:

Create your own definition of success and victory, don't focus on someone else's.

Art can be the core for addressing social issues, which was the idea the Life Is Living Festival is based on. Art can be at the center of a larger movement, as a way of bringing people together.

A "creative ecosystem": people with shared values coming together through different modalities (i.e. a painter and a civil engineer both working for access to healthy food in their neighborhood)

The issue of budget cuts and art programs being eliminated in public schools: We need to develop small communities around the arts to make up for what is not being taught in school. Artists and community members must find ways of coming together to give young people what they need.
Spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph

How do we fortify future generations? How do we interact with/speak to the movement we benefited from (i.e. Black Power Movement, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) as the first generations to grow up with more opportunity than our parents and ancestors?

Gentrification sends more low income people of color further away from urban centers in search of affordable places to live. But what happens to these communities as the prices of food and fuel continue to rise? Resources will be more costly to access in spread out areas. Cities need to remain an affordable option for all people.

Dancer/choreographer Adia Whitaker's concept of "neo folklore": Diasporic people of the hip hop generation creating folklore
Singer Jennifer Johns

The body as a folkloric instrument, a radical revolutionary instrument to create new folklore

DJ Rich Medina

"I sing from a place of intelligence, letting them [the audience] know that I know who they are."     -Nina Simone

There was so much food for thought, and the energy in the room was electric. Part 2 of  'The Gods Must Be Crazy' takes place tonight at The New Parish in Downtown Oakland, with a party featuring live performances by Jennifer Johns, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Martin Luther, Kev Choice, DJ Rich Medina, Scorpio Blues, and Ashara Ekundayo (who told last night's audience "don't show up trying to be all cute in your heels, come prepared to DANCE!" ) 
Nina Simone

This event presents an exciting model for what is possible when combining art and social change: Having a consciousness raising session and presenting questions, ideas, and things to work on in the community, and then following it up with artistic food for the soul. 
Gil Scott Heron
If you're in the Bay Area, come out for what is sure to be a night to remember at The New Parish, 578 18th Street in Oakland. Show is from 8pm-2am, tickets are $20. Wear your flats and sneakers!
And if you'd like to see photos from last night's discussion, check out the Top Ten Social Flickr page

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Creative Life: The Art of L. Frank Manriquez

The Bowl Twists by L. Frank Manriquez

Sometimes in life we are lucky to come across people who make us stop and think, and appreciate our surroundings, history, and experiences on a deeper level. Artist L. Frank Manriquez is just such a person. Her strength and creativity extends to so many realms, from visual arts and storytelling, to singing, weaving, gardening, and preserving the rich history of California's Native Americans.
Condor Time I by L. Frank Manriquez

L. Frank is from Southern California and belongs to the Tongva and Ajachmem tribes. A tribal scholar and self-described "decolonizationist", she is a Board Member of the California Indian Basketweavers Association (which does awesome stuff like making sure that parents of adopted Indian children receive the handwoven baskets babies were traditionally carried in), and co-founder of Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival. She has a wonderful way of making folklore and history come to life with her engaging stories and extensive knowledge. Her colorful paintings have been featured in galleries and museums nationally and internationally. This Is Yo Luck by L. Frank Manriquez

Manriquez also cultivates an extensive garden at her Sonoma County home. She lives on nearly a half acre of land in Santa Rosa, and has three gardens: one for growing basket weaving materials, herbs, and medicinal plants, another for vegetables, and a cactus garden. She grows corn, butternut squash, radishes, onions, lettuce, acorns, and watermelons. The garden also produces many fruits, including blueberries, Santa Rosa plums, raspberries, and blackberries. "Gardening makes it necessary to value a season's passing," she says. "[It's] not something somebody tells you; it is something that you learn for yourself. It is not as technical as people think. It is an emotional relationship, it's all about how you feel." L. Frank is passionate about sustainable living, and builds straw bale and waddle and cob buildings.

One of the things L. Frank is best known for is her "Acorn Soup" cartoon, which appears in News From Native California. The cartoon features the adventures of Coyote, who is the mischievous trickster of Native American folklore. Coyote is also the subject of many of L. Frank's paintings. Female Coyote by L. Frank Manriquez

Stop the Dance by L. Frank Manriquez

Many of Manriquez's paintings are of animals, and contain symbols of nature and spirit. A core theme in her work is respect for the land and those we share it with, and showing appreciation for the animals, plants, and people whose homeland we are guests of wherever we go.
Not to give the cockroach a bad name by L. Frank Manriquez

In addition to her works on canvas, L. Frank paints murals, creates jewelry, photography, and weavings. The mixed media installation in the above photo reflects her wry sense of humor. Most recently she was part of a workshop at this year's Bioneers Conference focusing on "native efforts to revitalize indigenous watercraft and navigation systems as a way to restore indigenous knowledge and address climate disruption."
L. Frank Manriquez is a powerful force for good. She has done so much to preserve Native American history and culture, and constantly expresses her deep knowledge in new and different ways. She is an inspiring example of how we can preserve and share our traditions.

For more about L. Frank and her work:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Otherworldly Creativity: Karine Fleurima

So many words come to mind when describing multimedia artist Karine Fleurima: soulful, surreal, transformational, fluid, muse...I could go on. The Haitian-born artist creates a hybrid sound and visual experience: If Gal Costa, Grace Jones, and Bjork had a musical love child, it would be Karine.
Her latest offering is "An AfroFuturistic One Womyn Show" entitled AIN'T NO RESPECT (for the Soulsinger) which has its debut at FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn next Saturday. The story goes a little something like this:

After several years of singing on planet Earth and getting no respect, soulsinger Xyana (zhy-ana) decides to leave Earth and explore the solar system for other performance possibilities. After being lost in space for 20 years, she finally lands on an unknown planet in the outer regions of the solar system. Join her as she embarks upon her epic journey to find other beings on this NuPlanet and discover the different realms that force her to confront the realities of her new home and her true nature... Catch Karine Fleurima's AIN'T NO RESPECT (for the Soulsinger) at FiveMyles Gallery, 558 St. John's Place in Brooklyn, New York. Saturday October 23rd at 8pm and Sunday October 24th at 2pm.
For more about Karine and her body of work, check out her website:
http://www.karinefleurima.comPhotography: Carlos Ramirez
Styling: Afua Addo
Makeup: Alsarah Abunama-Elgadi

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Deep Soul: Roberta Flack

Many singers have beautiful and strong voices. But then there are those who can sweep the listener away, the ones who can make you feel every single note, and their words feel etched upon your soul. You close your eyes and it's not just a song on a record, it's your man walking out the door for the last time, it's you sitting in a dimly-lit smoky nightclub being killed softly with someone's song.

Roberta Flack's music is like a rolling thunderstorm. It kind of creeps up on you at first, and then suddenly it surrounds you, enveloping you in its powerful depth and grace, and crackling with electric energy.

Born Roberta Cleopatra Flack, the singer grew up as a member of a musical family in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She started playing piano at age 9 and studying music at Howard University (where she earned her Bachelor's degree in music) at age 15. She was discovered playing at a D.C. nightclub by piano great Les McCann, who presented her debut album 'First Take', and wrote that "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped, and kicked every emotion I've ever known. I laughed, cried, and screamed for more..." in its liner notes.
Roberta went on to have a string of Grammy-award winning hits such as 'The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)' and 'Killing Me Softly', and while those amazing singles speak to her incredible talent as an artist, if you just listen to her greatest hits you are not getting the whole story. My favorite Roberta Flack songs are those unsung gems that never made it on the radio. I have almost all of her albums, and each one in its entirety is a masterpiece. When it comes to Ms. Flack, it's best to go off the beaten path with incredible songs like 'I Told Jesus', 'Feelin' That Glow', and her gorgeous string-filled version of the folk classic 'Suzanne.' And of course the entire 'Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway' album of duets is EPIC.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Funk and Soul from Coast to Coast

Okay folks, I hereby declare July Funk and Soul Month on both coasts! We're gonna kick it off early because the festivities are already getting started. And watch this space throughout July as we continue the Black Butterfly Funk and Soulabration. So what's happening in July?

For all you Brooklyn funk fans, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and The Ohio Players (!!!!) will take the stage July 12th for a FREE Concert at Wingate Park in Brooklyn, park of Wingate's Martin Luther King Jr. Free Concert Series. I have a feeling this show is gonna be EPIC. For more info. check out their website:

Meanwhile, Guerilla Cafe continues to add soul to the Left Coast...
Guerilla's game was already tight, but they just keep stepping it up. Over the past year this Berkeley, California favorite has extended its hours, going from the prime spot for coffee and brunch (Waffle of the Day, anyone?) to including an evening menu with scrumptious appetizer plates, wine, and sangria. And they are always throwing fun events (get on their mailing list so you don't miss out). This month the house of art, coffee, and vibes debuts Bay Area Funk & Soul Legends, an art exhibit celebrating the anniversary of Ubiquity Records, and the reissue of music by their Bay Area funk and soul artists on the Luv N' Haight label.

The exhibit will feature the work and inspiration of Darondo, Eugene Blacknell, Sugarpie Desanto, and Twilight.

Opening reception is Friday, June 25th from 5-9pm and the show will be up until August 29th, 2010 with special events featuring DJ sets and guest appearances by the musicians throughout the summer. For more info, check out:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Camille Rose Garcia: Sweet and Sour Storyteller

Camille Rose Garcia tells stories in which sticky sweet characters maneuver through monstrous worlds of greed, temptation, and destruction. She uses pink swans and smiling cupcakes to tackle issues like addiction, environmental destruction, and corporate greed.
Each of Garcia's paintings has an accompanying story or theme. If you have the chance to catch one of her gallery shows, you'll see the paintings are usually displayed with a beautifully lettered painted piece outlining the story for that particular body of work. The story behind the Dreamtime Escape Plan series (featured above) was "Created a short time after the giant tsunami that wreaked havoc on parts of Asia. Disaster is an everyday occurrence in this flooded world, the characters take pills, sleep a lot, and plan elaborate escapes from the quagmires implding around them."
Camille's paintings have a balance exhibits her incredible skill as an artist. Her pieces are elaborately layered and have a real sense of depth and texture while also being "super flat", so they look like the pages of a storybook.
Camille grew up in Orange County, California, and was very much influenced by living in close to Disneyland, the "happiest place on earth", while witnessing darker things happening just outside Disney's walls.

Visiting one of Camille's exhibits is literally like stepping into another world. There are huge sculptural pieces surrounded by theatrical looking sets, and plush dolls that scale the walls. In addition to her amazing artist books, she also has a series of limited edition vinyl toys.
Camille Rose Garcia holds a wonderfully distorted mirror up to our society, and tells stories we all know in a new and different kind of way. She blends the sweet with the sour to create a mix that is intoxicating and irresistible.

To see more of Camille Rose Garcia's work, visit her website