Artistic Protest: Oakland's Legacy of Radical Art Practice

Summer 2012

Ariella Aronstam-Powers : Interdisciplinary Studies Field

Mentor: Julia Bryan-Wilson, History of Art

The interplay of art and politics historically holds a distinct role in the City of Oakland, California. Since the 1960s, social activism has shaped and informed political art practices. Further, aesthetics and intertextuality continue to engage the issues of race, police brutality and economic marginalization as motifs and discourses for Oakland artists. Through primary and secondary archival sources, interviews, and participant observation, my project investigates how political art practices in Oakland operate as a context and product for social justice and community empowerment. I am looking at the work of two Oakland artists: Emory Douglas, the Black Panthers Minister of Culture, and Jon-Paul Bail, a local political screen printer.  I examine theses two artists’ motifs as case studies of the larger portrait of Oakland’s legacy of art and activism.

As a recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, I am honored for the opportunity to pursue and develop my research inquiry. The SURF Program provides the training and time to dedicate my summer to the exploration of art in my community, aiding to my passion as a scholarly activist, and allowing me to build my knowledge and skills for my future career in academia.