Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) hosts Open Engagement (OE) 2016. Befitting the Bay Area’s legacy of radical politics, OE 2016 explores the theme of POWER. This installment of OE is the first chapter in a trilogy of topics and institutional locales— that consider JUSTICE at the University of Chicago Illinois in 2017, and in 2018, OE returns to the Queens Museum in New York to explore SUSTAINABILITY.
Keynote speeches by social practice pioneer Suzanne Lacy and activist Angela Davis bookend the conference. These influential figures represent how OE has evolved as the pre-eminent space for socially engaged artists and creative social justice workers.
Power is the ability to make desired things happen. It can be wrestled from those who have it or it can spring from an independent agency using the means at hand. It is a form of magic and social entrepreneurialism that depends less on what others give and more on our imagination and energy.
Case in point, I humbly submit my family history, a classic immigrant’s story of people imagining a new future.
The picture above was taken by my father at the Manila Airport on November 30, 1968 as my family boarded our flight to California. My mom, the fabulous looking woman in the picture, somehow raised six children and managed a successful nursing career. It took amazing energy.
She is still amazing.
OE believes in the individual and the genius of the many. Presenters and attendees will no doubt define what power means for themselves as individuals and communities. We will explore how we take personal responsibility to create what we need and examine how we share and support one another. This involves candor to express what we want even if it differs with others. At the same time, we strive to conceive identities that include multiple communities so that we generate power for all.
The digital age has forever transformed the path to power. Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter came to be through the use of powerful social networking tools. The creation of movements is less about the individual and control over the material world and more about the crowd and the influence of information. Yet, this new age has resulted in a split between the utopic possibilities of the digital age and the unchanging need to provide for our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
OE sprung from the intuition that there was more at stake than making art to fill the white cube. More important to consider is the potent material of relationships and the desire for relevance beyond the limited confines of the cultural field and market place. At the same time, ongoing innovations were required to address the intractable problems plaguing the world. To weave these parallel threads together takes time and consideration. How can we inhabit this shared space fully? Can we imagine a transcendent power that unites the domains of artist and citizen? What can we learn and give to one another?
Let happiness and ecstasy drive our work.
“… at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
Let’s take inspiration from those doing important work that address urgent matters with powerful art.
“When you got the yams (what’s the yams?)… The yam is the power that be.” —Kendrick Lamar, King Kunta
See you in the spring.
About the contributor: René de Guzman is the Senior Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), joining the Museum’s staff in 2007 after serving as Director of Visual Arts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. de Guzman had been a sculptor and member of Diwa Arts, a Filipino-American artist collective. Upcoming projects include All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50, an exhibition that opens at OMCA in October 2016.