We missed you last month. But as things begin to reopen, the pace is also quickening. In witnessing this, we decided to let go of the newsletter last month. We hope you are finding ways to pick your moments of rest. Our dreams require it.
Arts & Cultural Strategy Coordinator
A little over twelve years ago the inspiring documentary Slingshot Hip Hop brought Palestinian hip hop to a global stage. Another piece of compelling evidence in the enduring power of hip hop to support self-determination, Slingshot is an essential look at creativity blooming in Palestine.
Are you an artist with a project or idea brewing? Two of our partner organizations in the Radical Imagination for Racial Justice initiative have recently released exciting opportunities for artists.
The Belonging in Oakland: A Just City Cultural Fund offers two year grants of $30,000 - $50,000 per year to artists of color who are answering the question, “How might we imagine a truly racially just and equitable Oakland where everyone belongs?” Deadline is June 14th.
NDN Collective released its second round of the Radical Imagination awards which will support 10 Indigeneous artists/culture bearers of all traditions, mediums and genres with one-year grants of $50,000. They are looking for artists who imagine and practice social justice within their communities or artists who amplify community voices to counter inequitable government and corporate policies and practices. Deadline is June 18th.
Estate of Effie Mae Howard. Photo: Ben Blackwell
Delight in over 70 pieces created by Richmond-based quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936–2006). In the largest exhibition of her work-to-date, you’ll be reminded of the power of improvisation, color and form. Plus, if you bring a young person with you, adult admission is free!
Image grab from The Nile Project's Dingy Dingy - Othering & Belonging Summit 2021
Did you miss our arts & culture offerings at the April summit? All good, they’re still here! Tune in to the commissioned song by the Nile Project about bridging in the Nile region, witness the intergenerational creative process of Alphabet Rockers and take time to talk story and meditate with Norma Wong.
We're back with #OBI May Mix for those good days and those in-between with a collection of European and American tunes.
By EJ Toppin
Echoing chords reverberate across my headspace, transmitted from ear to ear by the waves emanating from my overhead earphones. Amidst this sea, keys are danced upon in a dazzling ascension before cascading from an apex in a mellifluous tumble that pours over my mind’s eye.
Even though the day is gloomy, the sounds transport me back – delivers me, in a nostalgic gust and the trusted embrace of a caretaker – to days of old. Days that may have been gloomy, may have been cloudless. What feels defining in the present may fall to the wayside in now’s journey to memory.
My recollections glow, with an atmosphere of their own, because the warmth radiates from moments of molding,
of deepening bonds and relationships,
shaping me into who I am,
all with whom I am interwoven.
The music takes me back to the shiny black discs my grandmother laid down to spin on her turntable. Soul Makossa and the Jackson Five meld to her nurture, her care, and to her lessons of love. My grandma introduced me and my brother to new music as she opened our eyes to how to be in the world. The melodies and tunes that turned our afternoons into dance parties exist as one with the lasting impact of her guidance and teachings that all life is sacred, to treat everyone with respect, to always act out of love.
The music takes me back across a lineage of genres. My mother reminisces, dances and tosses her head like she did in college to the chimes of Roy Ayers’s xylophones. I have my experience of falling in love with the rhythmic grooves for the first time as she remembers hers. Enthralled, we couldn’t help but to gravitate to the momentous driving beats that 89.9 QTQ FM played during the evening commute, the direct descendants of disco and jazz fusions of my mom’s early adulthood. I tell my mom that my love of house comes from her. The inexorable impulse of Blackness to express itself resounds across generations.
The music takes me back to the love for the jazz classics I received from my father. Coltrane’s long tones translating into otherworldly notes no one had before pulled from a horn motivated me to practice my sax when I didn’t feel like it. The reggae, soca, calypso at family barbecues revealed that our music, our joy, our being, does not exist apart from community and relationship. It is in this spirit that Jackie and Dollie McLean, Momma Cheryl, Rufus, Johnny, Pete Smooth devoted their entire selves to a neighborhood of children the rest of the world regarded as disposable. I spent summers and school year evenings at the Artists Collective rooting in a sense of community and deepening my appreciation for African contributions to humanity.
This is my sense of me. It is also analogy. Or metonymy. Music, that is.
Of the expansiveness of art and its impact on me.
I did not only learn saxophone at the Artists Collective. I watched and absorbed my peers performing dance, spoken word, saw their sketches and paintings on the walls.
On the brutalities of colonization, Aimé Césaire writes of “societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out.”
My mother’s pride in her docent tours of art of the African Diaspora, my dad’s rummaging for paintings through his birthplace of Havana, the urgency with which appreciation is imparted on the next generation is an act of recovery – the yearnings of Césaire, and an act of assertion – that we have not been stamped out as thoroughly as the colonizers had intended.
Césaire also tells us that “poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge.” I take this to mean artistic knowledge in general.
Interspersed with the beats pulsing from my headphones these days is a lineup of my favorite podcasts. And now I am thinking of Bedour Alagraa’s exegesis of Sylvia Wynter’s thought on MAKC.
Man vs. Human.
The western world’s narrow conception of the person. The diminishment of everything that doesn’t fit this definition. The eschewing of all that is not easily quantifiable because the devastation from installing a world order born from imperialism is immeasurable.
So now we have an overexpressed celebration of the quantifiable. And an idea of what it means to be human born from separation. And it is this narrowness of the human through which we try to understand the world.
Or create the world.
And it is this separation through which we strain to engage each other. It is these formations that underpin our current condition. The cobbling together of a self from the rubble of “possibilities wiped out.”
I am awash with trepidation as I observe the constraints imposed on life, and the constraints unrecognized by others. The embrace of circumscription by some, mistaken for progress and modern living and happiness. Young people assuming their positions in the professional class, loosely interacting with simulacra of the cities in which they exist, bouncing between commodified versions of “good times,” commitments displacing family, friends, community, repositories of human capital where actual humans could be.
For me, art means recovery.
A reassertion of humanity. The human embedded in community, in right living with all forms of life, a human in all the ways my grandmother understands humanity, in all the ways the Artists Collective sustains as possible for the children of the North End.
Art motivates the work that I do. To fight for a better world for the people who gave me so much through art, for the people I came into community with through art. The world order we live under has created the structural inequities we contend with. Imperialism and white supremacy haven’t only materially structured our world. They have had a psychic and metaphysical impact on our being, on our understanding of what it is to be human. It is through our actions as this idea of human that we recreate the conditions of our present world. But, as Dr. Alagraa reminds us through Wynter’s words, the artist has always told us another world is possible and is showing us the way.
Toward a new world.
Othering & Belonging Institute
University of California, Berkeley
460 Stephens Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
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