The 9th Annual Life is Living Festival in West Oakland celebrated the 50-year legacy of the Black Panther Party, who used arts and culture paired with organized activism to fuel social change. Cal Shakes, Youth Speaks, and Campo Santo honored this legacy on the festival’s second annual theater stage, where we co-curated a day of locally-produced art addressing the theme “A Claim to Space: Building and Sustaining Home in an Age of Displacement.” In a time when one in four Oaklanders is at risk for displacement, how can art be used to “serve the people, body and soul,” in the tradition of the Panthers’ free breakfast program?
Our line-up offered a range of answers:
Campo Santo’s “H.O.M.E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually),” a new work from Star Finch, explored connection, family, survival, and womanhood in a future where states are being auctioned off to the highest bidder and Google and Apple have extended their empire into space.
“Fairytale,” written by the youth of Cal Shakes’ community partner RYSE Center, challenged audiences to cultivate self-love and communal healing in its moving critique of gender stereotypes, teen dating violence, and rape culture, told through music, poetry, and dance.
The BoomShake Performance Core pounded drums and spoke the names of black women lost to police violence in “The Streets Are Free,” a participatory, intergenerational “drumsical” about conditions faced by Oakland’s low-income communities of color and inspired by a true story of Venezuelan children fighting for a safe place to play outside in their barrio.
In “On the Hill,” directed by Cal Shakes 2014-2015 Artist-Investigator Paul Flores, youth of color living in gentrifying neighborhoods in San Francisco responded to the murder of Alex Nieto by SFPD and implored their neighbors to see beyond stereotypes.
“Don’t Take The Long Way Home” followed a taxi driver telling tales through a changing San Francisco, performed with text and music by Carlos Aguirre.
The Rysing Womyn project, facilitated by Cal Shakes 2015-2016 Artist-Investigators Cat Brooks and Anna Maria Luera, shared monologues and poetry about breaking through chains of societal oppression with “In Shallow Waters We Touch the Sky.”
“Mama at Twilight: Death by Love,” a new work from Cal Shakes 2014-2015 Artist-Investigator Dr. Ayodele Nzinga and the Lower Bottom Playaz, examined love within a family impacted by mass incarceration, religious taboos, and poor access to health care.
Through community interviews, original music, and physical exploration―and a deep dive into Oakland’s past―The Bonfire Makers (featuring Cal Shakes Artistic Engagement Coordinator Tierra Allen) imagined what the future of Oakland could look like if we disrupt current cycles of oppression with “PLACE to LAND (an oakland love story).”
All photos by Sonjhai Meggette/Esoteric Images.