Curatorial Statement

Imagine Power

Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) hosts Open Engagement (OE) 2016. We will explore the theme of POWER. This befits the legacy of Northern California’s radical politics such as the black power movement represented by the Black Panther Party founded fifty years ago in Oakland. This particular installment of OE is the first chapter in a trilogy of themes and institutional locales that will consider JUSTICE at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2017, and in 2018 returning to the Queens Museum in New York to explore SUSTAINABILITY .

Open Engagement’s 2016 keynote speakers are activist Angela Davis and artist Suzanne Lacy. These iconic figures bracket the unique space that OE is becoming as a site of care for the field of socially engaged art and as the meeting ground for aesthetics and social activism.

Power is the ability to make desired results happen. OE believes in the genius of the many so we invite presenters and attendees to define what power means for themselves as individuals and communities.

What is it? The digital age may have forever transformed the path to power. Now it is less about the individual and physical control and more about the crowd and influence of information. But liberation and dystopia have gone hand in hand. The Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter movements have had profound and far reaching effects, in part through the aid of digital tools, yet the core concerns for humane societies haven’t changed – and may have gotten worse. What is the calculus of new and old power that we seek?

How do we get it? We can grab or make it. When not given fairly and freely, how do we effectively demand opportunity? When strident and just calls for equity are met with further resistance, then what? What are the innovations to create new DIO (do-it-ourselves) avenues to power? How can we grasp our independent agency to influence and turn this influence into change?

How do we share power? Both OE and OMCA are institutions that believe in collective agency and alternatives to systems where power is held by the few. How do we assure our empowerment benefits others? How do we conceive of ourselves and who do we identify with? What are the new networks for identity that circulate power for all?

At its founding, Open Engagement sprung from the intuition that there was more at stake in art than object making to fill the white cube. There was the potent material of relationships to consider and the desire for relevance beyond the confines of the field and market place. At the same time of this growing recognition, the world’s problems sought a greater level of creativity to meet persistent social needs and desires. These parallel paths are in relief today more starkly than ever. OE 2016 provides an opportunity to fully embrace the moment and explicitly inhabit this precious space. Let’s imagine together a transcendent power that unites the domains of artist and citizen. What can we learn and give to one another?

René de Guzman
Senior Curator of Art,
Oakland Museum of California