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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)

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.

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