Friday, February 13, 2009

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Driving from East to West Oakland
to See Our Walls Speak (part 1)

One Sunday a week after the BART police killing of Oscar Grant III I took a drive from Oakland's eastern edge with San Leandro, driving down Foothill and then turning right on 103rd or so and driving west on East 14th, aka International Boulevard, all the way to West Oakland, to drive a bit on Mandela Parkway and the surrounding neighborhoods.

I took photographs of murals, graffitti and other commercial and non-commercial art on walls and in windows.

This is the visual record of that Sunday morning driving east to west with a beautiful sun shining on our tragedies and daily tribulations of work, family, community and survival.

There is a battle between art, graffitti, tagging and commercial art, decorative art that advertizes. The contradictions abound.

Our walls speak whoever writes or paints on them. Like the mural above, tagged with some "consideration," that is making the tag almost a part of the mural, blending it like streaks in her hair? A second tagger or color however disrupts and mars whatever was friendly in the first tag.

What does this mural depict? This is the legendary myth of Popocateptl, "the smoking mountain" (the "warrior" on the right) and Cicihuatl Chicihuatl Itzaccihuatl, the sleeping mountain (I can't remember the spelling right now, I'll correct it later!).

This is the personification of two volcanoes that are in the Valley of Mexico and have been depicted as a Aztec warrior watching over his "sleeping beauty." This is the eurocentri interpretation. This myth is painted and protrayed everywhere, from restaurant and grocery store calendars given out free every new year to countless those paimted by anonymous community muralists on public and private walls in the Southwest, in Mexico and other parts of the Mexican-friendly world.

Here's a close-up
The figures do not look "Indian" -- although undoubtedly there are Mexican indians that can pass and are off-spring of Europeans who forced themselves on Indian women, some inter-married, many didn't.

Popocatepetl continues rumbling and is linked up and down the Pacific rim of the Americas with what's known as "the ring of fire" -- active volcanoes, the last major eruption was back in May of 1980 when Mt. St. Helens blew up. Now there's a volcanoe in Alaska spewing and melting a glacier in the process. Global climatic change at home.

With this new knowldege, then the myth of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl takes on a different story. When sleeping beauty wakes up she's gonna make us pay!

Here's another close-up of the mural:
Here a tagger placed his/her spray on his leg, a clumsy attempt at blending or just plain defacement, as the artists or painters of this work would not-so-gently or nicely say.

I kept driving east, sometimes dangerously, as I pointed my camera in the direction of art on the buildings along East 14th/International Boulevard.

More art on the walls, of varying quality and skill:

I messed this shot up because I didn't pay attention to the stop sign's shadow over the portrayal of the girls playing jump rope.

Here's a mural at the East Oakland Youth Development Center wall, on 82nd and East 14th.

All these shots were taken while driving.

Further down East 14th:
She was a beautiful apparition from Michoacan or Africa.

This is a student mural done by students at Melrose Leadership academy, defaced by taggers and then the tagging was painted over. This mural is particuarly significant because MLA students organized a protest demanding a traffic light for community safety. MLA students did an action, taking over the street, creating a human chain and stopped traffic. And they got a traffic light installed! This happened about 2002?

Mural on the two floor facade of the Catholic Worker building:

This mural depicts Latin American heroes, Che, Bishop Romero of El Salvador and others.

Here's a blend of commercial and cultural mural on the facade of the Corazon del Pueblo:

This is a much better version of Latin Americanist Indigenist-oriented mural theme, which inspires Chicano mural painters and others, and has its long roots in the Popocatepetl/Iztaccihuatly theme and imagery.

The mural atop Corazon del Pueblo is developed and stylistically speaking in quite great form.

Corazon del Pueblo us my type of shop, it has Chicano/Mexicano "kitsch" and fine art, including music CDs, postcards, earrings and other jewelry, ceramic pottery, Virgen de Guadalupe and Frida Khalo pseudo-devotional art that I love to hang on my doorways and walls, huipiles, guayabaeras and posters of Mexican revolutionary icons and lots of knick-knacks for all occasions ! And on top of all this, Corazon del Pueblo truly is a cultural center, with a back room, a speakeasy of a new type, where the owner opens to community meetings, mounts fine art shows and allows many of us to put on poetry readings, musical offerings and other cultural activities inside and in front of her store.