A look at East Oakland's "Exodus"
East Oaklanders know that an exodus is underway. In a haunting reversal of the mid-20th-century migrations that brought them West, African-American families who can afford to are now leaving neighborhoods, especially those in the high-numbered avenues slashed by Bancroft, International Boulevard, and MacArthur. This time, in striking contrast to the promise of job opportunities for an earlier generation, what drives the contemporary diaspora is an instinct for survival, to avoid becoming lost in statistics like these: a 30 percent spike in the homicide rate in 2003, the first time in seven years that the number of people killed has exceeded one hundred per year, with most of the killings tied to drug-dealing. We're only too aware that 113 died last year, but who could tell us how many East Oaklanders left at the wheel of a rented van and not on a sheet-covered gurney? Why are they leaving, what are they taking with them, and what do they see in the rearview mirror of the mind? These provocative questions are the subject of "Exodus," an installation (February 18-March 6) at the Mills College Art Museum by Oakland artist and photographer Keba Konte, who uses photo-based images and found objects to honor and mourn the movement of peoples. Konte plans at least three components in this installation that provide a physical and psychic space for East Bay citizens to consider all the implications of leavetaking. They include a series of photo-based images on wood depicting families on the move. Another is a "safe journey" altar he's erecting in honor of those who are setting off. What gift would you give to a departing family? He asks that you bring a small object to place on the altar.
The third component is a pet possession of Konte's: a 1970s Lincoln Continental, which visitors can "ride" while listening to music from (perhaps) better days on an eight-track tape player. Through the rearview mirror they can watch the vanishing landscape: recent footage of East Oakland that Konte shot himself, including some of the post-Super Bowl unrest that he managed to capture on video.
You're also invited to an opening reception for Keba Konte, free to the public, on Wednesday, February 26, with a lecture on "Imaging Blackness" at 7:30 p.m. at the MCAM Concert Hall. Consult www.mills.edu/MCAM and www.kebakonte.com for more details. -- Frako Loden
The digital Provence
In the spring of 2002, Randy Wilk spent four weeks wandering the hills and seashore of the South of France near Sanary-sur-Mer, between Toulon and Marseille, snapping digital color pictures of the world's most romantic countryside. The Oakland photographer was trying to capture the mood and the fabled light of the French Impressionist painters on film, and he had a gimmick. On location, Wilk often shot through plastic sheeting -- the kind restaurants use to keep the wind from blowing the boeuf onto the toit -- to give the landscapes, figures, and animals a soft focus. Later, he used software to achieve the same effect through digital manipulation. "I wanted the photo to look as if Monet had painted it," Wilk says. He's hanging twenty of his works at the Cafe Mimosa in Oakland (462 Santa Clara Ave.) beginning Sunday, February 16. According to Wilk, some are true photos, and some only look manipulated but haven't been. At certain times, the artist will be on hand to talk about the trend of Photo Impressionism. The photos are for sale, but Wilk says that's not the point. That's probably what Cézanne said, too. -- Kelly Vance
For at least four years now, the city of San Pablo has presented an annual print show. "I have found, and this is going to sound terrible," says Anne Austin, art coordinator for the city, "but I have found that printers are more social. They form groups. And I think it's based around the fact that they share printing presses, and ideas, and supplies." The group in the 2003 Print Exhibit is called simply that, the Group, and they comprise all East Bay artists, all women in and around their fifties. The Group, most of whom are members of the California Society of Printmakers, decided that their show would be all hand-done work, as opposed to the more prevalent digital media. "There is a new direction for digital, and laser," Austin says, "and that may be part of the new wave, but this is going to be more hands-on -- woodcut, linoleum, so that your hand is still in it. You're not removed, there's not that machine between you and the product." The show runs from Saturday, February 15 through the end of March at the San Pablo Arts Gallery (San Pablo Civic Center, 13831 San Pablo Ave.), with a reception this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. -- Stefanie Kalem
In one of Hermann Hesse's fairy tales (one of the many he penned over his lifetime), a particularly shallow character finds himself standing in a natural history museum, viewing an exhibit about alchemy. "He could not understand," Hesse writes, "how the people of that era could have been concerned with such childish stuff and why witches and all those other crazy things had not simply been banned." Perhaps if he'd gone to Visual Alchemy Phase 2 at the Oakland Art Gallery (199 Kahn's Alley) instead, he would have been more impressed -- and not ended up being hauled off to the booby hatch -- after hearing zoo animals talk. Four artists, hand-selected by Phase 1's participants, show works with alchemical bents -- pieces that aim to transform the commonplace into art. From February 18 through March 8, you can enjoy work by Ben Peterson, Kara Maria, Steve Briscoe, and Lesley Baker, with an opening reception on February 20 at 5 p.m. Just don't eat anything you find in the exhibits. Call 510-637-0395. -- Stefanie Kalem
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