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Making Waves: 100 Artists Putting the East Bay on the Map

A master list of musicians, artists, writers, dancers, directors, actors, and poets shaping the culture, all from the East Bay.

SLIDESHOW

G-Eazy

(1 of 12)

Kehlani

(2 of 12)

Spellling

(3 of 12)

Boots Riley, with Jermaine Fowler and Terry Crews

Photo: Pamela Gentile/SFFILM

(4 of 12)

Daveed Diggs with spoken-word artist Rafael Casal in Blindspotting

Photo: Ariel Nava/Lionsgate

(5 of 12)

Nijla Mu'min

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

(6 of 12)

Marcus Gardley in Black Odyssey

Photo: Devin Berne/Cal Shakes

(7 of 12)

Sadie Barnette

(8 of 12)

Work by Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik

Photo: Sana Javeri Kadri

(9 of 12)

Work by Woody de Othello

Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Jessica Silverman Gallery

(10 of 12)

Work by Marisha Farnsworth

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

(11 of 12)

Tommy Orange

(12 of 12)

Editor’s Note: This is one of many stories San Francisco is publishing over the next month as part of the June 2018 East Bay Issue. To read stories as they become available online, click here.

How We Built This List
Listen, we love Tom Hanks. And E-40. And Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, and Michael Chabon. But for this collection, we wanted to spotlight the next generation of East Bay stars. To do that, we turned to a team of experts and fellow culture junkies to source and curate this list: Susie Kantor and Lucía Sanromán (curators, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), Larry Rinder (executive director, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), René de Guzman (curator, Oakland Museum of California), Cherilyn Parsons (executive director, Bay Area Book Festival), Elizabeth Bernstein (S.F. Writers Grotto), Aaron Axelsen (music director, Alt-105), Eric Ting (artistic director, Cal Shakes), Michael Zwiebach (editor, Bay Area Classical Voice), and Noah Cowan, Caroline von Kühn, and Rachel Rosen (SFFilm).

MUSIC

1. G-Eazy
Hip-hop ambassador | Raised in Oakland
It’s late morning—shake-off-the-hangover time—and Gerald Earl Gillum is sprawled out on a couch inside the Hotel Zelos in SoMa, where he’s promoting his new partnership with whiskey company Stillhouse, talking about The Great Gatsby. As we’re sitting there, Gillum—G-Eazy to his legions of fans— has the top Billboard pop song (“Him & I,” a collaboration with girlfriend Halsey) and a top-20 album (The Beautiful & Damned) and is fresh off the first of two nights of sold-out homecoming shows at the Bill Graham and Oakland’s Fox Theater. But for an artist who has risen, improbably, from slinging homemade mixtapes as a 16-year-old on Telegraph Avenue to becoming the region’s biggest musical star since Green Day, he’s awfully focused on the things he doesn’t have. “I don’t have an ounce of complacency in my body,” he says. “There’s that perpetual unrest or craving or hunger for something that’s out there.” Like Gatsby, though, he has trouble describing exactly what that is.

“At times there’s this feeling of inadequacy or wondering if I’m good enough for what I want to achieve,” he explains. “Like feeling shy in the biggest of moments.”

G-Eazy, with his good looks and gold records and A-list friend group, remains torn on fame. The Beautiful & Damned, his third studio release following the surprise 2014 breakout These Things Happen and 2015’s When It’s Dark Out, is a double album, meant to symbolize the two sides of stardom: the glitz and glamour of celebrity and the psychic weight of having to measure up to expectations. “It’s a teetering balance,” he says. “I’m living on that edge.... People see you at the awards show and you’re dressed up as nice as you can look, cleaned all the way up. But who knows what happens the next morning?” On songs like “Sober,” he confronts that directly: Rather than an ode to nihilistic pill-popping debauchery (there’s plenty of that elsewhere on the album), it’s a morning-after lament. “Why do people do things that be bad for ’em? / Say we done with these things, then we ask for ’em.”

To be clear, it’s not all existential brooding for the Berkeley High–reared rapper. The Bill Graham show, where he was feted as a conquering hero returned home, was a symbolic full-circle moment for him. One of his first big shows was opening for Kid Cudi there; that night, he invited Bay Area rap legend E-40 onstage with him. This time around, he set aside interludes for East Bay MCs P-Lo and SOBxRBE. “Whatever my reach or profile has become, I want to use that to open doors behind me and shine a light on where I’m from,” he says.

He smiles, remembering that first show. At the time, he was renting a loft in the Bank of America building on Fifth and Market. He walked the few blocks to the concert. “I might take BART to the show today,” he says. A few hours later, he does. As if to underscore just how far he’s come, a photo posted online shows him clutching the train’s overhead handrail. Within hours, it has half a million likes.

2. Tune-Yards
Electro-art rockers | Oakland
Leave it to Oakland’s Merrill Garbus to make a white-guilt album that still goes hard. In her latest project as Tune-Yards (with partner Nate Brenner), I Can Feel You Creep into My Private Life, Garbus interrogates her own privilege and whiteness (check out “Colonizer”), yet retains her signature joyous energy. Garbus also teamed with Boots Riley this year to score the much-hyped Sundance hit Sorry to Bother You. As always, she remains reliably ahead of the curve.

3. Fantastic Negrito
Soul-steeped bluesman | Oakland
Since his star-making 2015 triumph in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest, Oakland troubadour Fantastic Negrito has carried the East Bay’s blues torch, writing trenchant songs set to deep-in-the-pocket grooves. With a 2017 Grammy for The Last Days of Oakland, he’s now a global blues prophet. The searing Please Don’t Be Dead, out this month, is a shot across the bow of our foundering ship of state.

4. Toro y Moi
Trendsetting producer | Berkeley
A multifariously creative songwriter, producer, and graphic artist, Berkeley’s Toro y Moi (Chaz Bear) is often pegged as a progenitor of chillwave, but he’s far from that easy to sum up. An expert at teasing surprising textures out of ostensibly familiar settings, he revels in odd juxtapositions. After years of playing hide-and-seek with his cryptic lyrics, he offered a sly peek at the sonic wizard behind the curtain on last summer’s stunner, Boo Boo.

5. Kehlani 
Baddest bitch | Oakland
Bouncing between L.A. and Oakland since becoming an emancipated minor, the 23-year-old major-label crooner saw her first album, SweetSexySavage, debut at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 last year. This year, she’s toured (and made out onstage) with Demi Lovato, guested on Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, and brought sexual nonconformity to hip-hop via a series of tweets explaining, in frank detail, why she identifies as queer.

6. Shannon Shaw
Vintage garage rocker | Oakland
Shaw, frontwoman for Oakland garage-punk act Shannon & the Clams, goes it alone this month: On her solo debut, Shannon in Nashville (out June 8), produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, she’s less punk than usual. Still, the vintage sound on “Broke My Own” is every bit the earworm that Clams fans expect.

7. Russell E.L. Butler
Pulse-pounding DJ | Oakland
Butler’s amorphous dance music—a fixture of the inclusion-minded local techno circuit—nods to sci-fi, healing, and their (Butler’s preferred pronoun) Bermudan roots. The pulse and point of view of the 2017 four-song EP I’m Dropping Out of Life appear poised for international export.

8. Rayana Jay 
Confessional R&B riser | Richmond
With a gift for brutally honest lyrics about love, hate, sex, and everything in between, the 24-year-old singer seems destined for big things: Her 2016 debut, Sorry About Last Night, was a critical darling, and the follow-up Morning After proved it wasn’t a fluke. In March, her track “Everything” was featured on the TV series Atlanta.

9. Spellling
R&B on the avant-garde | Berkeley
The stirring, R&B-adjacent incantations of Tia Cabral’s 2017 self-released debut, Pantheon of Me, are the talk of the regional underground as well as voguish East Coast indie labels, forecasting a new moon for the Berkeley conjurer known, confoundingly, as SPELLLING.

10. Kamaiyah
Throwback swagger rapper | Born in Oakland
With vintage bravado and a crystalline cadence, Kamaiyah is a maverick rapper boasting co-signs from Drake and YG ahead of her major-label debut, Don’t Ever Get It Twisted. The artist whose breakout single asked how it’d feel to be rich is due to find out.

11. P-LO
Pinoy club banger | Pinole
As a producer with the late-aughts tastemakers HBK Gang, P-Lo architected the Bay Area’s rattling “post-hyphy” sound. On his second solo full-length, More Than Anything (2017), he emerged a coolly confident rapper in his own right, snaring an elastic verse from E-40 on the slapper “Put Me on Somethin’.”

12. Sjowgren
Superpowered popsters | Fremont
The out-of-nowhere success of the 2016 pop anthem “Seventeen” by Sjowgren (pronounced show-gren)—23 million plays on Spotify—seemed to take even the band by surprise, as it essentially went dark for a year following its initial three-track demo. But a steady stream of singles has been forthcoming lately, including the moodier “Now & Then,” suggesting that, at long last, a full-length release may be on the way.

13. Rexx Life Raj
Emo hip-hop star | Berkeley
The Berkeley hip-hop artist has Drake’s smoothness without the head-in-the-clouds narcissism. His latest release, last fall’s Father Figure 2, earned Raj (born Faraji Wright) mainstream recognition, including a spot on Marc E. Bassy’s recent tour, a portent of bigger collabs to come.

14. Lil B
Based rap progenitor | Oakland
Alternately thrilling and mystifying, Lil B was wise early on to the promotional value of meme-able stunts. (See: 1.6 million Twitter followers.) But on Black Ken, he emphasizes instead his creative breadth and vision, revealing the doting study of hip-hop that’s enabled him to shape its course.

15. Vverevvolf
Electro-pop monsters | Berkeley
Berkeley darkwave synth duo Vverevvolf—that’s Kelsey LaRae and Dylan Gallagher—cite as influences 1980s horror iconography, bubblegum pop, and shitty exes. Seems about right! The outfit’s extra-slick EP Electric Blue, released in February, sounds like Depeche Mode crossed with Grimes.

16. Still Woozy
Bedroom dream-pop maven | Oakland
Combining warm, acoustic pop with hard-edged electronic beats, Moraga-born Sven Gamsky has devised a sound he calls “wooz.” One listen to his Soundcloud page (starting with the excellent “Lucy”) clarifies the moniker—it’s the sonic equivalent of coming down off ’shrooms.

17. Kev Choice
Genre-blending jazzman | Oakland
Although he’s lived and performed all over the country, Choice’s soul is 100 percent Oakland. The multi-hyphenate pianist-producer-MC flows between hip-hop, jazz, classical, funk, and R&B both as a solo artist and as one of the most in-demand sidemen in the business. Case in point: He’s played SFJazz and composed for the Oakland Symphony, been Lauryn Hill’s bandleader, and performed with Too $hort.

18. Caleborate
Entrepreneurial rapper | Berkeley
An introspective lyricist with a sense for soul-inflected production and syrupy hooks, Caleborate (Caleb Parker) is influenced more by Bay Area hip-hop’s strident independence than by its classic sound. He now works with United Masters, a venture-capital-backed distribution startup that’s out to supplant traditional record labels.

19. Meklit
Ethiopian jazz siren | Oakland
A visionary both on and off the bandstand—she cofounded the Nile Project, a music-powered East African conservation NGO—Ethiopian-born vocalist, composer, and bandleader Meklit Hadero continues to expand on an infectiously grooving sound that embraces innovation by way of Addis Ababa Ethio-jazz, East Bay grease, and singer-songwriter self-interrogation.

20. Tiffany Austin
Classic jazz vocalist | Oakland
After her 2016 debut release Nothing but Soul earned rapturous reviews, Austin followed up with the even more impressive Unbroken. A meditation on African American resilience, the album is a soul-steeped affirmation that brings in blues, spirituals, and bebop. Whether caressing Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” or belting out the civil rights–era standard “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” Austin never sidelines her music’s freedom fight.

21. Club Chai
Global party-starters | Oakland
West Oakland DJs Esra Canogullari (aka 8ULENTINA) and Lara Sarkissian (FOOZOOL) founded dance party Club Chai as a vehicle for cultural exchange, prioritizing the work and dignity of queer and trans people of color. Since then, the project has grown into one of the area’s most transcultural—and hottest—events, period. Last year, techno tastemakers Boiler Room devoted a monthlong Oakland visit to documenting their scene.

22. Samuel Adams
Second-gen composer | Berkeley
The son of composer John Adams (Nixon in China, Girls of the Golden West), Samuel Adams, 32, has made his own name through his atmospheric, captivating compositions. In 2012, the San Francisco Symphony co-commissioned his piece Drift and Providence. Adams remains composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but recently returned home with wife Helen Kim (a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony).

23. Howard Wiley & Extra Nappy
Sensual hard bopper | Oakland
Every night is date night for tenor saxophonist Wiley, who puts the sex back in sax with his sensuously grooving, organ-powered hard-bop-meets-R&B combo Extra Nappy—beloved veterans of the Bay Area’s jazz club scene. Wiley embodies the continuity of black music in the East Bay while projecting the region’s soul via collaborations with East Coast improvisers. 

24. Diana Gameros
Folk music sin fronteras | Berkeley
If difficult times call for extraordinary voices, Berkeley singer-songwriter and guitarist Gameros is the woman for the hour. The Mexican-born trovista draws on her long experience without papers to explore the plight of border crossers of all stripes, bringing luminous humanity to a topic defined by searing heat rather than light. Her latest release, Arrullo (2017), is a beautifully textured acoustic session of Mexican folk songs and an artistic triumph for these ethnophobic times. 

Page two: Film

 

FILM

25. Boots Riley
Film and hip-hop pioneer | Oakland
Riley, the 47-year-old independent hip-hop icon from the Coup, entered the film world with a bang: Sorry to Bother You, his bizarro punk-political comedy, is one of the most highly touted movies of the year. It’s also a peek into the relentlessly creative mind of a unique talent. Annapurna picked up the film after a big showing at Sundance and will give it a wide release July 6. Meaning that, at long last, the world can get hipped to one of Oakland’s seminal artistic voices.

26. Ryan Coogler
Hollywood rainmaker | Raised in Richmond
Between breaking box office records we didn’t even know existed with Black Panther and landing on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, the Richmond native is injecting a shot of Bay Area values into the most mainstream of pop-culture fare. For his next trick, he has again teamed with Michael B. Jordan for Wrong Answer, the story of a standardized-test cheating scandal in Atlanta, with a screenplay by another A-lister, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

27. Amir Bar-Lev
Pop-culture chronicler | Raised in Berkeley
How’s this for ambitious: Create the definitive story of the Bay Area’s most cherished—and, let’s be honest, mocked—band, the Grateful Dead. That’s exactly what Bar-Lev, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, did with Long Strange Trip (2017), a four-hour, six-act masterpiece that was 14 years in the making. What could be more Berkeley than that?

28. Cary JOJI Fukunaga
Boundary-breaking director | Born in Oakland
Fukunaga, 40, won an Emmy and widespread acclaim for directing the razor-sharp first season of True Detective; then his hypnotic Beasts of No Nation kick-started a distribution revolution for Netflix. Next up: Maniac, one of 2018’s most anticipated black comedy series. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone play participants in a pharmaceutical trial gone off the rails. Streaming on Netflix later this year.

29. Jennifer Phang
Sci-fi visionary | Raised in Walnut Creek
Phang, who has directed episodes of Quantico and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, made a bold statement with 2015’s Advantageous (above), in which a single mother is forced to submit to a body-switching procedure. Part Handmaid’s Tale, part Joy Luck Club, it’s a powerful meditation on technology and humanity.

30. Mahershala Ali
Oscar-winning thespian | Born in Oakland
Born in Oakland and raised in Hayward, this former rapper (who released two albums on the Hieroglyphics’ label) turned Academy Award–winning actor keeps his hometown close: A month before his Oscar turn in Moonlight, Ali appeared in Kicks, an Oakland-set indie. Up next, he plays a jazz pianist touring the South in Green Book.

31. Moshe Kasher
Multi-platform funnyman | Raised in Oakland
Oakland’s most celebrated white-boy comedian hit the big time in 2012 with Moshe Kasher: Live in Oakland, filmed at the New Parish. By the time he dropped his first Netflix special (The Honeymoon Stand Up Special, with his wife, Natasha Leggero), Kasher had gone national, hosting a Comedy Central talk show (Problematic) and two podcasts and scoring roles in Zoolander 2 and Transparent.

32. W. Kamau Bell
Comedy truth teller | Berkeley
The Bay Area’s favorite self-described blerd (for black nerd) is flying the flag for Bay Area wokeness, talking sense to white nationalists on his Emmy-winning CNN docuseries United Shades of America and delivering sociopolitically charged comedy through his podcast Kamau Right Now!

33. Pete Nicks
Eye-opening documentarian | Oakland
East Bay documentarian Nicks spent two tumultuous years embedded with the Oakland Police Department, capturing its attempts to reform after officer-involved shootings, a high-profile sex scandal, and the ouster of its chief. The result is The Force, a timely view into post-Ferguson policing.

34.–36. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Bathroom humorists | Born in Berkeley
The East Bay dick-in-a-box crew have long since traded viral web shorts for mainstream fame. Samberg just returned for the fifth season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which both Schaffer and Taccone have directed); meanwhile, Taccone is attached to the upcoming comedy Miracle Workers, directed the pilot episode of Tracy Morgan’s The Last OG, and will helm the totally unnecessary but possibly hilarious MacGruber 2 The trio are also executive producers on Freeform’s Alone Together and Hulu’s upcoming Pen15—so maybe they have more dick jokes in them after all.

37. Ryan Fleck
The unlikeliest blockbuster | Raised in Oakland
The Oakland native was an unexpected pick to helm Captain Marvel’s $100-plus-million, Brie Larson–starring origin story (due out March 2019) with his wife, Anna Boden. Yet Fleck’s been gathering fans ever since his thoughtful 2006 breakout, Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted inner-city schoolteacher.

Page three: Theater

 

THEATER

38. Nijla Mu’min
Gate-crashing filmmaker | Oakland
This year the East Bay–raised writer-director injected a much-needed dose of diversity into SXSW with Jinn, her debut feature film, about a 17-year-old girl whose mother converts to Islam. The film received the Jury Recognition Award for writing and earned Mu’min a spot on Filmmaker’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film list.

39. Justin Tipping
Under-heralded auteur | Born in El Cerrito
Like his childhood friend Ryan Coogler, Tipping has used the East Bay as a cinematic muse: His powerful but largely overlooked 2016 feature debut, Kicks, which showed at Tribeca, was a poetic and gritty look at life growing up in Richmond; standout supporting roles for Oakland’s Mahershala Ali and Richmond’s Donté Clark, plus a soundtrack full of Yay Area bangers, give it all the components of a Bay Area cult classic.

40. Dan Krauss
Adaptable storyteller | Oakland
Krauss, 45, brought a compassionate eye to the dizzying moral complexities of end-of-life care in his Oscar-nominated 2016 short Extremis, filmed at Highland Hospital. Now the UC Berkeley lecturer is wrapping his first studio feature, a fictionalized version of his acclaimed war doc The Kill Team. The Afghanistan-set thriller stars Alexander Skarsgård and Nat Wolff.

41.-42. Kelly Duane de la Vega, Katie Galloway
Sociopolitical filmmakers | Oakland/Berkeley
The artistic partners behind the 2016 documentary The Return, a hit at Tribeca, excel at painting three-dimensional portraits of those on the fringes of society—the poor, the incarcerated, the people left behind. Galloway’s latest, The Pushouts, picks up where the seminal 1994 high school doc School Colors left off, following high school dropouts and their encounters with the criminal justice system.

43. Daveed Diggs
Midas-touched actor | Born in Oakland
What’s a rapper turned Broadway star to do after winning a Grammy, a Tony, and the hearts and minds of America? If you’re Diggs (at left, with Bay Area spoken-word artist Rafael Casal), you keep repping the Bay. Working with Casal, Diggs co­wrote and starred in Blindspotting, about an ex-con who comes home to Oakland, which garnered major buzz this year at Sundance. The film will get a wide release this summer from Lionsgate.

44. Itamar Moses
Broadway’s late bloomer | Born in Berkeley
Berkeley High’s most famous playwright (his ode to his alma mater, Yellowjackets, premiered at Berkeley Rep in 2008), Moses long ago graduated to the national limelight—his Bach at Leipzig and The Four of Us have been staged across the country. But last fall, he entered the national consciousness in an even bigger way: The musical The Band’s Visit, whose script he adapted for the stage, became a surprise hit on Broadway, where it’s running through this fall.

45. Philip Kan Gotanda
Pan-Pacific playwright | Berkeley
One of the preeminent Asian American voices in American theater (After the War, The Avocado Kid, The Wind Cries Mary), Gotanda has settled into his career’s second act as a professor of theater at UC Berkeley—but that doesn’t mean his influence has waned. A revival of The Dream of Kitamura was staged at Zellerbach this spring, and last fall, Los Angeles’s East West Players recruited Danny Glover to reprise his role as the lead in Gotanda’s 1999 play Yohen. Closer to home, Gotanda’s adaptation of Rashomon was recently staged by Ubuntu Theater Project.

46. Jonathan Spector
Script flipper | Oakland
It’s been a busy year for Spector, the prolific East Bay playwright: In March, Aurora Theatre staged his anti-vaxxer satire Eureka Day, about obnoxious parents at a liberal Berkeley prep school; this month, Custom Made Theatre hosts the world premiere of Good. Better. Best. Bested., about a horde of Las Vegas hedonists begrudgingly confronting a major international catastrophe. As in previous works (FTW, Adult Swim), Spector uses incisive wit to point out hypocrisy and interpersonal tensions in a fundamentally Bay Area way.

47. Ariel Craft
Theater revisionist | Berkeley
Craft, 29, has already left her mark on Bay Area theater through biting reinter­pretations of the classics, such as her 2016 staging of The Awakening for the Breadbox, the company she founded in 2012; last year’s Phèdre at Cutting Ball, where she’ll take over as artistic director this summer; and, memorably, the highbrow-lowbrow Frankenplay MacBitch, also from 2017.

48. Marcus Gardley
The Bard of the Bay | Born in Oakland
This appears to be the year that Gardley, the hugely influential playwright behind The House That Will Not Stand and Love Is a Dream House in Lorin, takes his Bay Area curtain call: In the fall, Cal Shakes will reprise his widely acclaimed Black Odyssey, and in March, Ubuntu Theater Project staged a moving rendition of his Dance of the Holy Ghosts. Beloved as Gardley is here, though, he’s now a national figure after serving for several years as playwright in residence at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.

Page four: Art

 

ART

49. Sadie Barnette
History-reclaiming artist | Oakland
“Oakland is such an author in my work,” Barnette says. “Everything I do has that perspective—that Oakland swag.” Barnette’s work, like her hometown, walks the line between the harsh reality of street life and vibrant self-expression. Take, for example, a rack of $20s and $50s, tattered and bound as if straight off a drug corner, bedazzled in glittery pink rhinestones. That image appeared as part of Barnette’s 2017 installation Compland—an imagined “nonliteral” Compton-Oakland mash-up city where gritty on-the-ground reality mixed with a liberated urban dreamscape.

In her latest and perhaps most profound work, Barnette used a Freedom of Information Act request to secure the 500-page file the FBI compiled on her father, Rodney Barnette, a founding member of the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party. The resulting installation, Dear 1968..., puts that file on display—and, overlaid with pink spray paint and pencil drawings, it reclaims the dignity of her father’s history after it served as an instrument of his own demise. (He was fired from his job at the post office for the dubious crime of cohabitating with a woman he wasn’t married to.)

The project was included in the Oakland Museum of California’s 50th-anniversary celebration of the Black Panthers last year and has since toured as a solo exhibition. As always with Barnette’s work, racial, sociological, and political themes are intertwined with the irrepressible and enthusiastic. Or, as she describes it, visitors will see both “the very real, and the holding space for imagining new possibilities.”

50. Alicia McCarthy
Belatedly recognized genius | Oakland
Commissioned last year by SFAI for a ceiling-scraping mural featuring her deceptively simple line work, the Mission School artist’s return to her alma mater perfectly sums up her career so far: 26 years ago, McCarthy was threatened with expulsion for graffiti that, to quote the school, “looks like shit.” A quarter century later, the art world has finally caught up with the 2017 SECA Art Award winner.

51. Ala Ebtekar
Border-erasing artist | Berkeley
The Berkeley-born Ebtekar, whose parents came here from Iran, blends imagery from disparate cultures into a new aesthetic that speaks directly to the second-gen American experience. Think mythological paintings over religious manuscripts, or a pair of white sneakers with laces made from intricate Iranian textiles.

52. Terri Loewenthal
Psychedelic photographer | Oakland
Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams made hay photographing California’s landscapes; what would they think of Loewenthal’s hallucinogenic Psychscapes? The tripped-out nature series launched this spring at Aimee Fri­berg’s Cult gallery; previous shows of her work have been staged at YBCA and the Berkeley Art Museum. Loewenthal (above) also runs an artist residency called the Chetwood out of her Lake Merritt home.

53. Jessica Sabogal
#MeToo muralist | Oakland
Female empowerment has long been a theme of Colombian American artist Sabogal’s work, way before the #MeToo movement brought it to the masses. Sabogal’s spray-painted stencils feature striking imagery of women and the female form—often queer, of color, and indigenous—making bold proclamations like (in one recent campaign) “Women Are Perfect (If You Let Them).”

54. Constance Hockaday
Bay-focused party starter | Oakland
Perhaps no artist embraces our proximity to the bay more than Hockaday does—and certainly none with the same humor. Her 2017 The Noise Cruise, conceived with the Lab for the Untitled art fair, refashioned a luxury cruiser as a floating underground drag club; in 2014, she arranged a floating peep show performed by unemployed sex workers; and her floating 2015 Billboard, moored off the Oakland Estuary, proclaimed in blazing neon to the Port of Oakland: “You Make a Better Wall Than a Window.”

55. Carrie Hott
Found-art creator | Oakland
A room of discarded bric-a-brac, organized by theme. A series of sound machines patched together from recycled electronics. A dark room, full of lamps. This is the stock and trade of Oakland conceptual artist Hott, whose aforementioned sound sculpture, Summer Night Forever, was shown at San Francisco’s 2018 Untitled art fair. The former Headlands fellow also contributed an essay and taught a class on Holophane lamps for the 2017 Museum of Capitalism pop-up in Oakland.

56. Senay Dennis
Local street-art legend | Oakland
Dennis, who goes by Refa One, is responsible for many of the most iconic works of graffiti art in the Bay Area, including his recent Huey P. Newton mural on 14th and Peralta in West Oakland. A founder of the AeroSoul art collective, Refa One has long taught art at various universities and for incarcerated youth.

57. David Wilson
Community-minded conceptualist | Oakland
Wilson’s thing is getting people together to make art. That’s included facilitating ad hoc residencies at the Berkeley Art Museum and, in one recent program, launching a direct-mail campaign featuring hand-drawn maps leading recipients to people’s favorite places around the Bay Area. A 2012 SECA Art Award winner, Wilson combines drawing, watercolor, and other media to create a strain of conceptual work that speaks directly to the Bay Area’s landscape and community.

58. Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik
Food-justice artist | Oakland
Both through her own practice as an installation artist and as a founding member of the People’s Kitchen Collective, Bhaumik uses food as an artistic medium. Her 2016 piece We Are Against the Wall involved building a model border wall out of brick-shaped piñatas and inviting guests to take turns smashing it down.

59. Woody de Othello
Funk-art throw­back | Oakland
A successor to the Bay Area’s 1960s funk-art movement, de Othello makes sculptures that twist everyday objects into grotesque caricatures. A neti pot has a human fingernail. A telephone looks undeniably gloomy. “He’s able to translate psychological states into physical forms,” says gallerist Jessica Silverman, who will exhibit new works of his in September, when he’ll also be included in YBCA’s Bay Area Now 8 exhibition.

60. Unity
Skate-world advocate | Oakland
Jeffrey Cheung’s ecstatic nudes adorn canvases, concrete, and, through his role as ringleader of the queer skateboarding collective Unity, more than a thousand skateboard decks. Over the years, Unity has expanded from a band into also being a micro-press (printing, among other projects, Brontez Purnell’s queercore zine Fag School) and, beginning in 2017, a vehicle for diversifying the world of skateboarding. The loose-knit collective, anchored by a skate shop and clubhouse in Oakland, now sponsors skate meet-ups across the country, underscoring the resonance of Cheung’s powerfully simple mission: queer skaters, boldly building community.

61. Victoria Wagner
Unnatural nature artist | Oakland
The so-called woodrocks created by Wagner—who splits her time between Sonoma County and Oakland, where she teaches at CCA—marry redwood, madrone, and Douglas fir burls with gem-hued oil paint. The results, shown at galleries across the Bay Area, look like tripped-out geodes. They’re at once geometric and psychedelic, natural and unnatural.

62. Joshua Mays
Forward-looking muralist | Oakland
Although he disclaims the Afrofuturist label, Mays’s invocations of science fiction filled with people of color make it compelling to group his paintings, illustrations, and murals as such. His Beacon series can be seen in Oakland at 23rd Avenue and 24th Street, near the Grand Lake Theater, and at 1700 Broadway. Other pieces can be found across the country.

63. Sahar Khoury
Super-abstract artist | Oakland
The startling works Khoury fashions out of “rejected” materials—including her own clothes, concrete, discarded newspapers, papier-mâché—are cold and industrial while also personal and tender. Although she draws on global politics for inspiration, the Oakland artist describes herself as “abstract to the core.” 

64. Lauren Napolitano
Multimedia mystic | Oakland
Napolitano creates drawings, paintings, and tattoos that use traditional Mexican imagery like snakes, feathers, and interweaving geometric shapes to form a mystical aesthetic that’s feminine, complex, and all her own. Not content to work in traditional media, she adorns found objects like empty Coke bottles and light bulbs with her designs.

65. Keba Konte
Entrepreneurial photographer | Oakland
Konte’s artistic and altruistic interests are both global and local. As a photographer, he’s captured images of Nelson Mandela’s election and protests over Oscar Grant’s shooting. More recently, he’s begun superimposing portrait photos onto wood blocks. He’s also the founder of Red Bay Coffee, where his team is composed of people of color and the formerly incarcerated, each of whom is awarded a share of the business’s profits on top of their hourly wages.

66. Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle
The “unportrait” taker | Oakland
Interdisciplinary visual artist Hinkle probes what she calls the “historical present.” In her latest work, The Retrieval, she created “unportraits” of the estimated 64,000 black women thought to be missing in the United States.

67. Brittsense
Documenter of the forgotten | Oakland
Photographer Brittani Sensabaugh’s ongoing series, 222 Forgotten Cities, shines a light on black communities from East Oakland to Kingston, Jamaica. Rather than documenting the weight of systemic oppression, though, she unearths moments of everyday joy—a reminder of her subjects’ inherent dignity. Her images were recently included in the Oakland Museum of California’s show on hip-hop culture, and last fall she self-published her first book, The Power of Melanin.

68. Chris Johnson
Cultural archivist | Oakland
In 1996, Johnson began work on Question Bridge: Black Males, a video installation in which he recorded black men asking and answering questions related to life in America. Twenty years later, the project has grown to include 1,600 such exchanges. In 2016, the five-screen, three-and-a-half-hour installation was added to the permanent collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

69. Sasha Kelley
Community-minded mentor | Oakland
Multimedia artist Kelley’s depictions of black life in Oakland first put her on the map in 2013, when she deftly integrated a GIF installation, poetry, and portraiture in Headspace at the Krowswork gallery. Kelley also founded the House of Malico collective, a women-of-color-focused artistic and entrepreneurial agency. 

70. Tammy Rae Carland
Feminist forebear | Oakland
Carland’s 2015 photo book, Some of Us Did Not Die, features black-and-white photos that recall coming of age during the AIDS epidemic. But it was in the 1990s that Carland, now provost at CCA, first gained prominence: She produced influential fanzines including I (heart) Amy Carter and co-ran Mr. Lady Records and Videos, an independent record label and video art distribution company focused on queer and feminist culture.

71. Marisha Farnsworth
Temporal sculptor | Oakland
Farnsworth’s installations invite confrontation: Her 2015 sculpture series Block by Block was installed on the sidewalk in Mid-Market, practically begging for passersby to sit, swing, and hang out on it. (They did.) Last year, she designed the central temple at Burning Man, made from 100 dead trees felled by PG&E and representing the estimated 100 million dying trees statewide. Of course, that installation ended in ruin by design—a fate Block by Block managed to escape. It was simply moved to Mission Bay.

72. Masako Miki
Scale-shifting master | Berkeley
Osaka-born artist Miki trades in both the large (as in her dreamy, immersive installation works) and the small (epitomized by her hand-felted creature sculptures). In both cases, her art is informed by Japanese traditions and the Bay Area Japanese diaspora, whether it’s ink-on-paper cross-hatchings or meticulously detailed figurines.

73. Terri Friedman
Monumentalist weaver | El Cerrito
The El Cerrito–based CCA instructor and multimedia artist’s “violent pretty” tapestries push the medium to its limits, both figuratively and literally: For BAMPFA’s 2016 Art Wall series, Friedman created her largest “yarn painting” yet, a 24-by-60-foot work titled If you are hit on the head with a kaleidoscope, (does that mean you see stars?), created on a handmade four-foot loom.

74. Favianna Rodriguez
Artist and activist | Oakland
As both a printmaker and an organizer, the Fruitvale-raised Rodriguez has left a mark on her community. Her punchy, brightly colored prints, which have been shown at the de Young, deal with migration, climate change, and sexual liberation. And as director of the national arts nonprofit CultureStrike, she’s helping mold the next generation of socially conscious artists.

75. Porpentine Charity Heartscape
Gutter-punk gamer | Oakland
More poetry than shoot-’em-up, Porpentine’s avant-garde video games trade joysticks and bull’s-eyes for nonlinear interactive storytelling. Think of it as a text-based choose-your-own-adventure story with Donkey Kong–era imagery and gutter-punk subject matter. In her breakout 2012 game, Howling Dogs, the player is trapped in a safe room and falls deeper and deeper into depression; the only escape is through periodic trips into a VR alternate universe. Porpentine, a trans woman whose work was exhibited at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, will never rise to Mario Bros. levels of mainstream fame, but her impact on the boys’-club gaming world is still undeniably profound.

Page five: Words

 

WORDS

76. Roman Mars
Podcast revolutionary | Oakland
If there’s such a thing as a podcasting rock star, it’s Mars, whose chart-topping design radio show and podcast on KALW, 99% Invisible, carved a path forward for the next generation of independent audio producers. Mars is also the architect of the podcast network Radiotopia, which has helped establish Oakland as the Radio Row of the podcast era. Most recently, he launched the new series What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law with UC Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh.

77. Brontez Purnell
TMI storyteller | Oakland
“I don’t know how big my dick is,” says Purnell (above), the Oakland-based artist behind a series of art-punk zines, novels, bands, and dance pieces. “But I’ve been told it has a big presence.” The scene is from Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends Mixtape, a short film that was included in the December 2017 Day With(out) Art action and shown at the Whitney and Los Angeles’s MOCA. That blunt, fearless confrontation of both queerness and blackness has been the calling card of Purnell’s work for years, although for his latest project, Unstoppable Feat: The Dances of Ed Mock, Purnell turns his camera lens onto an earlier maverick of Bay Area black queer art. The film is part of this month’s Frameline42 film festival.

78. Tommy Orange
Overnight literary sensation | Born in Oakland
“We’re a present-tense people,” Orange says over coffee. He’s discussing his debut novel, There There (June 5, Knopf), a restless, propulsive story about a group of Native Americans in Oakland whose lives converge at a massive powwow. “The whole country needs an update on what it means to be native, because we still think in the past,” he says. “Eighty-five percent of native people live in cities.”

The characters in There There pine for an authentic sense of native identity in the 21st century. There’s 21-year-old Tony Loneman, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome; graffiti writer Dene Oxendene; Internet addict Edwin Black; and Orvil Red Feather, who’s learning native dance by watching YouTube videos.

Orange grew up near Dimond Park with a Cheyenne and Arapaho father and a white mother who met at a peyote commune in New Mexico in the ’70s. “We were all ‘halves,’” he says of the kids on his block. The novel mines that past, subverting stereotypes of contemporary Native Americans—most of whom don’t live on reservations—and depicting a seldom-seen side of Oakland. Even the book’s title, a reference to Gertrude Stein’s famous quip, reframes the city through a native lens. “It’s this idea of environment and location and displacement and trying to connect to it when there’s no more there there,” he says. He pauses a moment, considering. “I liked that it’s the name of a Radiohead song, too.”

79. Chinaka Hodge
Renaissance poet | Oakland
“To be born this light / is to direct traffic from the center of an isosceles triangle / etched over the atlantic,” wrote Hodge, the uncrowned poet laureate of the Town in her 2016 collection Dated Emcees. Hodge’s work marries a deep engagement with the long arc of African American history to the hip-hop pulse of contemporary life.

80. Bich Minh Nguyen
Cultural cartographer | Berkeley
Nguyen’s breakout memoir, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, chronicled her relationship with American junk food. Her upcoming work, tentatively titled Owner of a Lonely Heart, is also about refugees grappling with American identity, but this time through music—“really bad music,” she says. “Styx, Supertramp, Abba.” Nguyen has also taken on other pillars of Americana: Her 2014 novel, Pioneer Girl, imagines a Vietnamese family’s connection to the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie novels.

81 Laleh Khadivi
Accidental serialist | Berkeley
Upon selling her first novel, The Age of Orphans, in 2009, Khadivi was asked by the publisher whether she had any other books planned. In a panic, she said she was working on two follow-ups. “So then I had to do a trilogy,” she deadpans. The result is her so-called Kurdish trilogy: In Orphans, a boy is living through the Persian coup of 1921; in The Walking (2012), his son joins the Kurdish diaspora in California; and finally, in 2017’s A Good Country, the middle-class grandson becomes radicalized and travels to Syria. Ten years later, Khadivi is finally free of that spur-of-the-moment lie.

82. Shanthi Sekaran
Privilege checker | Berkeley
Sekaran’s second novel, Lucky Boy (2017), concerns two immigrant mothers living very different lives in Berkeley (one is an 18-year-old Mexican immigrant house cleaner, the other the thirtysomething Indian American wife of a Silicon Valley engineer) as they collide over an adoption proceeding. Sekaran (above), a child of Indian immigrants, considers the levels of privilege afforded to different immigrant groups in a place where everyone has the best intentions­—and in the process comes up with one of the best descriptions ever of contemporary Berkeley.

83.Robin Sloan
Magical realist | Oakland
The author of two novels, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2012) and Sourdough (2017), Sloan creates works that form a cartography of the obsessions of a particular type of post-­Chabon East Bay dude: sentient colonies of microbes, California cuisine, and our bleeding-edge technological present. He also runs a killer Twitter account and makes his own olive oil. Of course he does.

84. Donté Clark
Artist as activist | Richmond
The spoken-word artist, MC, and activist from North Richmond is the subject of the acclaimed 2015 documentary Romeo Is Bleeding, which chronicles Clark’s time preparing his theater piece Té’s Harmony at the RYSE Center and explores the ways art can help end the cycle of violence in inner cities. After touring internationally for the film’s premiere, Clark continues to work in Richmond as a performance artist and youth mentor.

85.-87. Thi Bui, Mariko Tamaki, Gene Luen Yang
Trailblazing graphic novelists | Berkeley, Oakland, born in Alameda
These three Bay Area graphic novelists have wildly different styles, but each portrays outsiderness in profound ways. In her haunting 2017 memoir, The Best We Could Do, Berkeley-based artist Bui charts her family’s final days in Vietnam. Tamaki, one of relatively few women writers working at DC Comics (New Super-Man, Supergirl) and Marvel (Hulk, She-Hulk), first made waves with the 2008 graphic novel Skim, about an outcast teenager confronting her sexuality. And Yang, a 2016 MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient, was a finalist for a National Book Award for his graphic novels American Born Chinese (2006) and Boxers & Saints (2013). In 2016, he created DC’s first Chinese superhero, Kenan Kong.

88. Vanessa Hua
Gear-switching phenom | Orinda
With her 2016 short story collection Deceit and Other Possibilities, Hua, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, made her name in the fiction world. Now her debut novel, A River of Stars (August 14, Ballantine), about a pregnant Chinese immigrant’s life on the run, has drawn advance praise from the likes and Celeste Ng.

89. Meron Hadero
Displacement dramatist | Oakland
Hadero’s short story “The Suitcase” was selected to be included in Best American Short Stories 2016. A refugee from Ethiopia, Hadero often writes about resettlement and displacement, both physical and emotional. Big-name writers and editors have taken notice: She contributed an essay to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection The Displaced this spring.

90. Lauren Markham
California chronicler | Berkeley
Markham confronts fundamentally Californian issues: immigration, fires, the crippling drought. Her 2017 nonfiction work The Far Away Brothers follows two teenagers from El Salvador who cross the border illegally and settle in Oakland. It won the 2018 Ridenhour Book Prize and has been short-listed for the California Book Award.

91. Elaine Castillo
Filipina phenom | Born in Milpitas
All right, so Castillo technically grew up just across the East Bay–South Bay divide. But the queer Filipina novelist (above)—whose debut, America Is Not the Heart, was released in April to rave reviews—went to Cal, so we’ll make an allowance. Thematically rich and stylistically experimental—the narrative flows between perspectives and languages—it instantly vaulted onto best-of and must-read lists for 2018.

92. Maw Shein Win
Aural poet | El Cerrito
Win, a Burmese American poet (and the first-ever poet laureate of El Cerrito), performs as one-half of the musical duo Pitta of the Mind with composer Amanda Chaudhary. No wonder, then, that her poetry—most recently in her full-length collection Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press)—has such percussive qualities. “I’m very fond of image and sound—the sonic quality of language,” she says.

93. Michael David Lukas
Culture clasher | Oakland
Lukas’s calling card is cross-cultural exchange: His 2011 magical-realist bestseller, The Oracle of Stamboul, followed a Jewish girl living in the final days of the Ottoman Empire; his latest, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo (2018), tracks a part-Jewish, part-Muslim Berkeley student summoned to Egypt, where his family has for centuries guarded a sacred scroll. Off the page, Lukas works at UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, where he facilitates exactly such meetings between Western and Middle Eastern students. With, of course, less magic.

94. Vernon Keeve III
Southern lyricist | Oakland
“I have always been standing in the middle / Those double G’s between nigger and faggot,” writes Keeve in Gardens and Carnivores. Keeve’s poems typically tackle what it means to be gay and black, particularly in the South (he hails from Virginia). His first collection of essays and poems, Southern Migrant Mixtape, was released in January, and he’s planning to put out a chapbook this summer that he describes as “nonfiction poetry” inspired by his research in the S.F. Public Library’s James C. Hormel archive on “queer black progress from the Harlem Renaissance to the AIDS epidemic.”

95. Rachel Richardson
Metaphorical voyager | Berkeley
“When the seamstress slid / the bone into the bodice / and pinned each / cut piece together, / the satin stood upright / at the sewing table. / She could almost / see it breathe. / I am swallowed / and swallowed whole. It outlasts / all our vows.” So writes Berkeley poet and Left Margin Lit cofounder Richardson in “Canticle in the Fish’s Belly,” from her 2016 collection Hundred-Year Wave, a sly and moving volume on the dual meaning of feeling lost and “adrift,” as explained through imagery from Moby-Dick and scenes of contemporary motherhood.

Page six: Dance

 

DANCE

96. Tanya Chianese
Movement maker | Oakland
When she debuted with 2015’s Cookie Cutter, Chianese (left), the 29-year-old director of Oakland’s Ka·nei·see Collective, already possessed complex abstraction, refreshing humor, and insightful theatricality. Who else could use toilet-paper rolls as props, as in 2016’s Readymade, then about-face to this April’s Nevertheless, a scathing referendum on sexual harassment? Many try, but few succeed like Chianese.

97. Randee Paufve
Cutting-edge choreographer | Emeryville
She could rest on her modern-dance laurels—a 2015 Izzie Award, a 2016 Theater Bay Area Award, presenters like the Joyce SoHo—but Paufve, 57, prefers to take risks, from summoning pagan forces in 2017’s XO, performed by Paufve Dance at the Joe Goode Annex, to choreographing Timon of Athens for Cutting Ball Theater this spring.

98. Marc Brew
Dance integrator | Oakland
A leader in physically integrated dance for 30 years, Oakland’s Axis Dance Company is breaking more ground under the leadership of Australian-born Brew, 41. Known for collaborations with artists like filmmaker Katrina McPherson and the hip-hop-classical group Ensemble Mik Nawooj, Brew lends the already progressive Axis troupe an international, avant-garde framework.

99. Graham Lustig
Mash-up maestro | Oakland
Since taking the helm at Oakland Ballet Company in 2010, Lustig, 63, has gotten the long-struggling company back on its pointe-shoe toes. He’s also expanded its horizons with the ballet–turf dance mash-up Oakland-esque, this spring’s ballet-Bharatanatyam version of The Jungle Book, and East Bay Dances, an eclectic spring festival now in its fourth year.

100. Antoine Hunter
Dance maverick | Oakland
The dancer and director of Urban Jazz Dance Company has performed with Robert Moses’ Kin, Sins Invalid, and companies around the globe. But Hunter, who is deaf, is equally noteworthy for founding the annual Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival in 2013, for which he received a special Izzie Award this March.

 

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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