Monday, July 6, 2020

Brighter Days for Dark Carnival

For the time being, Dark Carnival abides.

by Michael Berry
Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 5:50 PM

Berkeley's Dark Carnival has seen bleak times before.

The Claremont Avenue science fiction and fantasy bookstore was on the brink of closing three years ago, but it has managed to hang on, thanks to its devoted customer base and the efforts of owner Jack Rems.

  • Jack Rems

Then the pandemic hit.

In a telephone interview, Rems admits that he was contemplating having to close even before the coronavirus became an issue.

Luckily, help for the store came from an unexpected direction, a Bookstore & Chocolate Crawl created by Bay Area writers and bookstore enthusiasts Charlie Jane Anders, Jackie Risley, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and other locals interested in creating fun ways to walk together to neighborhood bookstores. The most recent East Bay Crawl, in January, included stops at Dark Carnival and its neighbor Afikomen Judaica. From the Crawl grew #WeLoveBookstores, when, in the wake of pandemic shutdown orders, Crawl organizers pivoted to organizing online literary events to fundraise for local independent bookstores.

According to Anders, "The pandemic came at a time that bookstores were under a lot of pressure already." #WeLoveBookstores events featuring both emerging and high-profile authors and artists have supported Pegasus, East Bay Booksellers, Moe's Books, Books on B, Marcus Books and many other area stores. More information can be found at

Dark Carnival has been a part of Berkeley's Elmwood for decades, having moved from a location near the Ashby BART Station. Containing an estimated 12,000 volumes in its labyrinthine "don't trip over those paperbacks" interior, it's the place to discover hard-to-find books and current bestsellers.

Anders spoke of discovering Dark Carnival when she first moved to the Bay Area. "They always had such a great selection of new and interesting stuff and old and obscure stuff. It was a store that you never knew what you would find. It was a cavern of treasures."

Having been reminded of Dark Carnival by the Crawl, Anders and crew wanted to provide further help. "Everyone was aware that this was a store that was a little precarious and would be harder hit than many in this crisis," Anders said. "We felt like we couldn’t afford to lose this store."

With that goal in mind, #WeLoveBookstores will host a Zoom videoconference on July 8 to benefit Dark Carnival. Moderated by Anders, the event will include three writers with recently published books who are also indie bookstore enthusiasts: John Scalzi, author of "The Last Emperox"; Sarah Gailey, author of "When We Were Magic"; and Michael Zapata, author of "The Lost Book of Adana Moreau."

The author of "River of Teeth" and "Magic for Liars," Gailey most recently published "When We Were Magic." The former Oakland resident's debut YA novel is the story of teen girls who are best friends, have magic powers and accidentally kill one of their male classmates. Gailey said the book explores "owning mistakes, living with consequences and allowing friends to love you when you're not perfect."

Gailey said they grew up in the East Bay independent bookstore where their mother worked.

"We would go to work and she would put me in the back room and I would sit there surrounded by galleys and would color and read books that were too old for me," Gailey recalled. Now they’re happy to fundraise for another East Bay store.

"To my mind, independent bookstores are the lifeblood of my career," Gailey said. "Independent booksellers really championed (my adult novel) 'Magic for Liars' in a way that I can never express my gratitude for."

Chicago writer Michael Zapata is the editor of MAKE Literary Magazine. His novel involves a mysterious science fiction manuscript and theoretical physics. A tale of exiles and parallel times, it's the kind of compelling, unusual novel that bookstore owners love to hand-sell.

"I spent a lot of time as a teenager in independent bookstores. It introduced me to the idea that I could become a writer one day," Zapata said.

Scalzi will join the conversation from his home in Ohio. Author of "Old Man's War" and "Redshirts" and a past president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Scalzi signed a $3.4 million contract with science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor a few years back for 13 books. Invested in the continuing success of science fiction and fantasy, he relies on independent bookstores to help keep the genre vital.

Scalzi said genre booksellers like Dark Carnival are important, "because you can’t necessarily rely on chains or even some independents to go deep into a genre, to not only 'play the hits,' but also to go down into an individual author’s bibliography or a particular subgenre."

Dark Carnival can facilitate the deep dive, Rems said. During the lockdown "people around town have called and said things like, 'Can you put together ten books by this author and drop them at my house?' We’ve done some of that."

Asked to reveal the secret of his store's longevity, Rems admitted things have been rough. Perhaps the closest call came in 2017, when he announced that Dark Carnival would be closing soon.

"I thought we were done, but some people seemed to make it their mission to keep us open."

For the time being, Dark Carnival abides, hopefully with some help from #WeLoveBookstores, among others. As Rems said, "We’re still here.".

July 8, Noon: John Scalzi, Sarah Gailey and Michael Zapata for Dark Carnival

Tickets available through

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Black Films Matter, Now More Than Ever.

17 recent Black-themed movies you should have seen already, but can still catch up with.

by Kelly Vance
Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 10:50 AM

The #OscarsSoWhite protests around the 2015 Academy Awards were trying to tell us something. So was Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale. So were the entire filmographies of Oscar Micheaux and Charles Burnett, in Micheaux’s case beginning a century ago. And yet current events show us that not enough people were paying attention to the stories of African Americans. There’s a way to remedy that. Here’s a list of 17 exceptional Black-themed movies previously reviewed in these pages, in chronological order by publication date. Most if not all are available for streaming.

Queen & Slim One of 2019's most provocative films is powerful stuff, neatly wrapped in realistic yet mythological terms by the players and their director.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco One of the saddest movies of this or any other year, and yet one of the kindest. A high level of forgiving togetherness distinguishes this poetic film.

Us A horror/thriller masterpiece with subtle (and not-so-subtle) subtexts. Drop whatever you’re doing and run to see Us. You might recognize someone you already know.

If Beale Street Could Talk Director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel aims for the timeless in its story of a pair of Harlem lovers. It’s a breathtaking miracle.

BlacKKKlansman Spike Lee’s surprisingly humorous anti-hate pic tells a true-crime story with a happy ending, plus a warning that happiness is not guaranteed. One of Lee's finest.

Blindspotting Audiences looking for a film that expresses all the vitality — and everyday struggle — of life in contemporary Oakland, search no more.

Sorry to Bother You The rarest of satires, filmmaker Boots Riley’s feature debut is a nimble, imaginative bucket of social indignation.

Black Panther Director Ryan Coogler follows up Fruitvale Station and Creed with a big-budget blowout that offers just enough real-world meaning to satisfy audiences bored with the usual screen superheroes.

Mudbound A tale of strong emotions, raw injustice, and courage, from deep in the heart of the Great Depression and the Mississippi Delta.

Detroit Where’s the outrage? 53 years after the bloody riots in the Motor City, we’re still asking that question. Detroit is not a relaxing, fun-filled evening at the movies. It’s a cavalcade of injustice. But it’s one of the most meaningful films of 2017.

I Am Not Your Negro If we had to name one documentary that is absolutely essential to understanding the perennial curse of American racism, director Raoul Peck’s terse cinematic framing of author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript is it.

Moonlight The remarkable, unhurried, true-to-life story of a young Black man, Barry Jenkin's Moonlight is as straightforward as a hundred-dollar bill, but completely imbued with love.

Miles Ahead After watching Don Cheadle’s meditation on the pain of pure creativity and unapologetic Black-ness, you’ll never listen to a Miles Davis cut in the same way again.

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution Straight outta Oakland. Right on!

Fruitvale Station Ryan Coogler’s dramatization of the life and death of Oscar Grant will break your heart.

The Black Power Mixtape What Nixon and the FBI didn’t want you to see. A Swedish TV crew uncovers the reality of Black life in America, circa 1967-1975. Said the doc’s original filmmaker: "The people in the film changed the world for the better. Not only for Black people in America, or any marginalized group, but for all people."

“Telling Stories” An appreciation of the films of Los Angeles writer-director Charles Burnett (To Sleep with Anger, Killer of Sheep), from 2004.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A Conversation with Shy’an G

Shy’an G talks "The Reset," the Bay Area, and the importance of versatility in hip hop.

by Shelby Mayes
Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 3:25 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Shy'an G

On Jan. 25, rapper, poet, producer, and Bay Area native Shy’an G celebrated the release of her newest project, The Reset. The EP features five deeply personal songs, two of which Shy’an G produced herself.

I got to speak with her on the phone on Friday a few hours before the release party to talk with her about her thoughts on versatility for women in hip hop, creative inspiration, and her hopes for the new project.

Shy’an G was born and raised in Berkeley where she started writing poetry and raps at the age of 9. When she was 15, she moved to Oakland where she became more involved in music production and performing.

With a style and voice completely unique to her experiences Shy’an’s sound could be described as socially conscious rap with a heavy emphasis on lyricism and storytelling.

When listing her major influences, names such as Lauryn Hill, Outkast, Rhapsody, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Mac Dre, and Flying Lotus were among the many names to come up. Another major source of inspiration for Shy’an G’s creative process is her parents who are both visual artists. “My parents are so visually creative I feel like I can apply that to my music,” she told me. “I do my best to create an illustration in people’s heads when they hear my words.”

When asked about the project title, The Reset, Shy’an G described the process of “resetting” as a meditative and reflective process. “To reset is to take a step back, breathe, and proceed with intentions to do something better and on a new level.”

And Shy’an G has remained true to the process of growth and evolution that she raps about on The Reset.

“In The Reset, I sealed the deal with getting personal, especially “From Now On”. “From now On” is kind of like a diary, from the way people have described it to me.”

“From Now On” is the fourth track on the EP and one of the songs that Shy’an G helped produce, alongside another one of the Bay Area’s few female producers, Money Maka. Other producers featured on the EP include M6, Yajj, and ManiOnThisThang.

Her commitment to contributing to the versatility of women’s style in hip hop inspires listeners to take an authentic approach to creative expression. “I want to present an alternative, I got love for all of my Black sisters out there winning I just want to the media to know that this does not have to be the only image that is projected” she said. “I hope that people can share this project and listen to it as much as possible with the intent of listening to an artist and not just a female artist.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Boygenius Stuns with Gorgeous, Slow-Burning Songs at the Fox

Whether solo or together, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus mesmerized.

by Madeline Wells
Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 2:46 PM

Julien Baker headlined the evening solo. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Julien Baker headlined the evening solo.

Supergroups are designed to generate massive amounts of hype, but in the case of boygenius, all the commotion is well-deserved. Indie singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus came together for a mere four days in Los Angeles earlier this year to write and record a six-track EP, released earlier this month. The result is a delicate yet powerful collection of songs, showcasing each musician’s mesmerizing vocals and knack for storytelling. The three women work in a similar genre of music, but each brings something distinct to the table: Dacus’ warm, buttery alto and harder rock sensibility; Bridgers’ composed, melancholy soprano and folksier tone; Baker’s raw, emo-tinged yelps and guitar shredding skills. So of course, when the three announced they were going on tour together, no one could wait to see the project come to life live.

The show’s Fox Theater stop kicked off with Dacus at an early 7:30 p.m. Presented as the opener, Dacus gave the most energetic solo set of the night, her brand of loss-themed indie rock taken to powerful heights with the help of a backing band. Like the other performers, she seemed a little shy on stage — yet still warm and charming. She introduced “Yours & Mine” from 2018 album Historian as an ode to her hometown, Richmond, Va. — or to “any place that you love but hate.” She wrapped up her short but sweet set with cathartic break-up song “Night Shift” and stripped, atmospheric album closer “Historians.”

Lucy Dacus started things off on an energetic note. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Lucy Dacus started things off on an energetic note.

Next up was Bridgers, who maintained the evening’s somber mood but with a sense of humor. With her mics and drum set decorated in softly glowing string lights, she strummed acoustic guitar and crooned two of her bigger hits, “Smoke Signals” and “Funeral.” Then, she deadpanned, “I’m gonna lighten the mood a little. Not really... At all. This is a song about domestic violence,” before launching into “Would You Rather,” which she said was dedicated to her brother. Good-natured pokes at the heaviness of her music was how she broke the hushed silences, joking, “Sorry, it’s still gonna be slow.”

Baker was the official headliner of the night, and the only performer to take the stage entirely solo (apart from the occasional accompaniment of a violinist). Baker captivates with little other than her reverb-drenched, electric guitar looping and emotive vocals, which fluctuate easily between a breathy near-whisper and an impassioned roar. “Turn Out the Lights” was the emotional peak of her set, particularly at the moment when she turned up the distortion on the guitar and shouted the devastating chorus at the top of her lungs: “When I turn out the lights / There’s no one left / between myself and me.”

Phoebe Bridgers injected humor into her otherwise melancholy set. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Phoebe Bridgers injected humor into her otherwise melancholy set.

Each member’s solo set was hauntingly beautiful, but the true high point of the night was when the three musicians finally took the stage together to become boygenius. Clad in matching jackets, they played through their EP, each taking turns on lead vocals while the others accompanied with heavenly harmonies. From the powerful, shout-along devastation of “Me & My Dog” to an acapella rendition of closer “Ketchum, ID,” in which the three women stepped away from their mics to encourage a whispered sing-along, the audience’s only wish was for the boygenius portion of the night to be longer. But with only six songs from the group in existence, and the solo sets already stretching for a full three hours beforehand, there was really no way to grant such a wish. Here’s hoping for more music from this magical collaboration in the near future.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Alphabet Rockers Spotlight Dreamers, Immigration Issues with 'Walls' Music Video

What better way to teach kids about the political climate than socially conscious rhymes?

by Azucena Rasilla
Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Kaitlin McGaw (left) and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. (second from right) with their spouses and children. - VIDEO STILL COURTESY OF SUGAR MOUNTAIN PR
  • Video still courtesy of Sugar Mountain PR
  • Kaitlin McGaw (left) and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. (second from right) with their spouses and children.

As of late October, as many as 245 children remain in federal detention, according to government data obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The actions of the current administration and the stories that emerged from all of the family separation cases briefly dominated the news cycle — in recent weeks, this humanitarian crisis has been slowly fading in the news.

For Bay Area-based band Alphabet Rockers, founder Kaitlin McGaw, music director Tommy Shepherd, Jr., and DJ Juan Amador (Wonway Posibul) use their platform to speak about social justice, race, class, and the complex topic of immigration.

Last year, their album Rise Shine #Woke earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album. What better way to teach kids how to understand and navigate the current political climate than through the power of socially conscious lyrics and catchy rhymes?

They just released the video for “Walls,” written and performed by Amador, Shepherd Jr., McGaw, and Kat Evasco.

In the video, we hear Evasco in the opening sequence: Yeah, I do identify as American, I’ve lived in this country since I was 5 years old, and there’s no amount of papers that can take that away from me. She's speaking to the place of Dreamers (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in this tumultuous political climate.

“When taking the lead writing this song, I immediately thought about this topic of walls, and how kids don’t feel safe nowadays because of the things they see on TV, the taunting they receive in school,” Amador said. "That was important to me."

The video has lots of familiar faces, including actor Emilio Delgado, who for 44 years played the role of Luis on Sesame Street; Sophie Cruz, the young activist fighting for her parents' right to legalize their status; and DJ Agana, a local DJ and muralist. Also making cameos are poet Yosimar Reyes and UndocuQueer artist Julio Salgado.

For Alphabet Rockers, it was essential to shoot this video and share it, given the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric by the current administration. “I remember performing at a school in Daly City before the album was even released, around the time when 45 was starting to threat DACA,” McGaw recalled. “For me, that day I was like, 'OK, this is about to go down. We are stepping up.'” Since they perform for and in front of kids, she said it's important to spread the message of “we are standing up for you, for your parents, for all of our families, for everyone."

The urgency to put the video out increased as more stories involving family separation at the border continue to emerge. “The situation was escalating even further, and we were just like, 'This is why we are doing this,'” Amador said.

“It’s been very moving to see these youngsters that identify with [the lyrics for "Walls"], the connection, and how they were feeling like they were being heard,” Shepherd added. “It’s an amazing feeling to watch.”

The video is a heartfelt depiction of what makes this country great: a melting pot of cultures; the beauty behind races coming together to form a community and thrive, no matter who is in the White House. The lyrics say it best: Not a border, not a wall / not a line in the sand / could devise a plan / to divide us again.

Alphabet Rockers "Walls"
Written and performed by Wonway Posibul, Tommy Soulati Shepherd, Kaitlin McGaw, and Kat Evasco
Produced by Chief Xcel of Blackalicious
Directed by Eric Coleman of Mochilla
Featuring Emilio Delgado, Lucié Leal, Sophie Cruz, Yosimar Reyes, Julio Salgado, and the Bay Area community

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mitski Embodies Slowly Unraveling Character At The Warfield

Her San Francisco stop was basically immersive theater.

by Madeline Wells
Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 1:54 PM

  • Madeline Wells

On Saturday night at the Warfield in San Francisco, Mitski entered the stage to the loud, buzzy guitars of “Remember My Name,” her hands clasped neatly behind her back. She stood stock-still throughout the entirety of the first song, staring ahead with a measured intensity. Soon, she would replace unnerving stillness with highly theatrical dance moves, but her intensity was unwavering.

With the release of her newest album, Be the Cowboy, the indie rock singer-songwriter has taken an entirely new approach to her stage presence. In interviews, she has spoken about not being naturally inclined to act outgoing on stage, preferring to stray away from lengthy stage banter. But the character Mitski based Be the Cowboy on translates perfectly to the stage. Partially inspired by the protagonist from The Piano Teacher, partially inspired by a part of her own personality, Mitski plays a woman who feels powerless and overcompensates by taking on an extremely controlled exterior — but she’s so repressed that her inner emotions begin to slowly creep outside the margins of her body.

On stage, Mitski fully embodied this character, slowly unravelling throughout the length of each song. Some songs she acted out with gentle, graceful hand movements, such as miming taking a drag of a cigarette during “I Don’t Smoke.” During others, she let the inner turmoil beneath her words show — during “Francis Forever,” she paced the stage back and forth, gradually picking up speed, and with it, anxiety. During “Dan the Dancer,” she kicked her legs up in the air while draped over a folding chair. Other songs found her fully thrashing on the floor or clutching at her chest, acting out an artistic rendition of a child’s tantrum or even a spurned lover.

Mitski’s performance of her character was so immersive that it felt a little jarring to hear her speak — but she kept her words very brief, soft, and simple. At a pause between songs, when fans screamed their undying adoration for her, she replied, “Just so you know, anything you say I can’t hear.” She gestured towards her earplugs. “But I really appreciate the sentiment.”

With such a deliberately executed performance, it was cathartic to see Mitski finally jump around enthusiastically at the end of “Happy,” the opening track from her 2016 album Puberty 2. But even tossing her head back and forth and throwing her arms to the sky, her movements still felt very detached from the reality of happiness — an uncanny, robotic performance of it rather than pure joy.

Mitski dropped the theatrical dance movements at the end for two of her slower, more heart wrenching songs — although, if we’re being honest, every Mitski song is a tearjerker. Her haunting, world-weary vocals rung out mesmerizingly over acoustic guitar on “A Burning Hill” — the first time she picked up an instrument during the set. She ended with “Two Slow Dancers,” the album closer on Be the Cowboy that mourns a loss of youth and young love. In typical Mitski fashion, by the song’s finish, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

J. Prince Talks New Book 'The Art and Science of Respect'

He's on the road with Drake.

by Sannidhi Shukla
Wed, Oct 31, 2018 at 3:22 PM

  • Photo courtesy of J. Prince

From E-40 to Too $hort, Drake’s run at the Oracle Arena this past weekend was heavy on the surprise guests. The one guest you might not have caught on stage, though, is J. Prince, the Houston-based rap titan who’s mentored Drake through everything from his first meeting with Lil Wayne to his recent beef with Pusha T.

Now Prince is hitting the road with Drake to promote his new book, The Art and Science of Respect, which is part memoir, part self-help book, and, according to Prince himself, wholly different from anything that’s been written before. “It’s different because there’s only one of me and of my journey,” he said. “I want to lead by example when I write my story.”

Plus, there’s not a lot of memoirs out there that feature forewords written by Drake.

Prince started writing the memoir in 2014. The journey since then has been bittersweet, studded with both memories success and painful encounters with the past, all of which show up in the gorgeous full-color photographs that fill the book. “My photos are a confirmation of the fun I had and of the distress I had,” said Prince.

Above all, Prince hopes that his book will serve as an inspiration for big dreamers who see themselves in his journey. “When guys are from where I’m from and they see someone they may be inspired by, we don’t normally make it out of the ghetto without a scratch,” he said. “When they look at me, they see a system of respect.”

Friday, October 26, 2018

Vessel Gallery to Close After Eight Years in Oakland

There's one last exhibit and a moving sale.

by Janelle Bitker
Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 11:30 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Vessel Gallery
Lonnie Lee sounds remarkably calm about the end of her popular art gallery.

"We are closing our doors," she said. "We have been displaced from this space. Vessel and I will continue serving our clients and working with our artists and taking pause a little bit about what direction we’re going to take next."

The beautiful two-story gallery on 25th Street — and arguably one of the central attractions of Oakland Art Murmur every first Friday of the month — will permanently close on Saturday, Nov. 17. Vessel's lease is up, and Lee was not given the option to renew.

"When we arrived [in 2010], I signed a five year lease. When that came up, they asked for a 60-percent increase in rent; we felt we had to agree, to keep the space. At that point we tried for a longer lease, but that was not agreed. I ended up paying 70 percent more of what I paid when I first obtained the space," she said. "I’m not sure the business model can withstand another similar increase like that, so perhaps in the back of my mind, I was preparing. But instead of working on a renewal for an eight-plus year tenant, the landlord is taking his buildings in a different direction, and my space is included; they would not be renewing my lease. I wasn’t given the option this time to sign up again.”

Vessel is currently holding a moving sale through November. There will also be a special art sale with 20 percent off selected works on back-to-back weekends, Nov. 9-11 and Nov. 16-18. (While Vessel will be selling items past the official closing date, Nov. 17 is the last day to see an exhibit.) "If people have their eye on some artwork, that's a great time to pick some up," Lee said.

Supporters also have one last First Friday to visit the space. (Even though the First Friday street festivities have been canceled for Friday, Nov. 2, the art galleries will be open as usual from 6 to 9 p.m.) Vessel is showing two concurrent solo exhibitions: Elsewhere by Cyrus Tilton and Together and Apart by Sanjay Vora. "It's a beautiful show. It's thoughtful," Lee said. "I'm so proud to go out on this incredible high note."

This is not the last Oakland is seeing of Lee, though. She will continue to work with artists, and she still has ongoing client projects. She's contemplating traveling and online shows while she figures out what comes next for Vessel. What's missing is the public-facing, brick-and-mortar space.

Vessel's closure is a worrisome development for Oakland's creative scene, as artists leave for more affordable cities and rents continue to skyrocket.

"There is still a wellspring of creatives here and I hope that with the changes going on that the fine qualities of creative arts enterprises and production will continue and continue to enrich longtime residents and people who work serving Oakland," Lee said. "And that it will be inclusive of the new people coming in, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Oakland Art Murmur Galleries Will Remain Open for First Friday Despite Cancelled Street Festival

There's still a lot of art to see.

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 2:34 PM

  • Stephen Loewinsohn/File Photo
By now, you've probably heard that Oakland First Fridays has cancelled November's street festivities, including the onslaught of food trucks, arts vendors, and lively performances that take over Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street. But Oakland Art Murmur wants to make it very clear that the art galleries (you know, the real reason people assemble on Friday evenings, right?) will remain open as usual.

You can check out the full list of galleries and venues that will be open (and free to the public) on Friday, Nov. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. here.

The First Fridays street fest was cancelled due to the violence that occurred three hours after last month's edition, leaving five people with gun shot wounds. From a statement on the First Fridays website: "During this hiatus, the Oakland First Fridays team will be conducting a top-to-bottom review of our policies and procedures. We’ll be looking at new ways to increase safety, and addressing other issues raised during conversations with participants, local businesses and city officials in recent weeks. We plan to increase our community partnerships and engagements, review our security procedures with Oakland police, city officials and businesses in the surrounding area, and step up enforcement of the open-containers ban at the event."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Futurescape Spells Project Brings Public Art Installation to Oakland Billboards

Alternate futures, spells, and magic.

by Sannidhi Shukla
Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 4:08 PM


If you’re walking around Oakland in the next few weeks, you’ll probably come across some billboards featuring pretty cryptic images. But these are not your garden variety cryptic images. They’re actually spells for alternate futures put together by the Futurescape Spells project.

The Futurescape Spells project started with Elicia Epstein, an artist and documentarian based in Oakland. Inspired by the work that Guerrilla Girls and others have done to shift billboards from strictly commercial platforms to public art installations, Epstein reached out to Oakland artists Leila Weefur, Dionne Lee, and Olivia Krause to put together their own public art installation. The result is a fantastically diverse group of artists both in terms of artistic style — Epstein’s billboard primarily features text while Weefur’s features a photograph, for example — and in terms of identity. “Each of us, we represent a cultural or ethnic corner of the Bay Area in some way,” Weefur said.

Working with magic isn’t new for Epstein. In fact, it was the potential to take spells that she’d already been working with to a grander scale — both physically larger and with the ability to reach a greater audience — that drew her to the project in the first place. For Epstein, spells are a way to offer people possibilities for futures that don’t exist and which they may not even have begun to consider. “It’s trying to envision alternate systems that cause less harm in general,” she said. Her billboard, which sits above a building that houses an organization that offers services to families of incarcerated people, envisions a future where police and prison systems are no longer part of society.


Weefur, meanwhile, approaches spells as recipes. Her billboard is a more abstract meditation on the relationship between Black beauty and Black decay. “With all my work I try to see the images I put out into the world as a series of questions being posed,” she said. “How is a metaphysical musing on beauty and horror projecting a spell for how people consider and think about Blackness?” The billboard sits next to MacArthur BART, where Weefur hopes that casual commuting passersby will stop to consider it, but she believes that it could be anywhere in Oakland and still carry the same meaning.

Of course, there’s no better way to learn about these spells for alternate futures than to hear about them from the artists who cast them. On Saturday, Oct. 27, Epstein, Weefur, Lee, and Krause will be hosting a roaming tour starting at West Oakland BART at 1 p.m. It’s the perfect chance to meet the artists and even dream up spells of your own for alternate futures. Otherwise, the billboards will remain up through Nov. 15.

Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Weefur referring to "metaphysical music," when in fact she said "metaphysical musing."

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