Anyka Barber on art in times of resistance
Anyka Barber is a graceful, thoughtful and inspirational person, leader and artist. She cofounded the Oakland-based art gallery Betti Ono six years ago. I had the pleasure of visiting her art gallery for a preview event of their latest exhibition, VIRAL, a meditation on police brutality and state sanctioned violence. Following this emotional and moving exhibition, Anyka and I had a conversation about race, art, gentrification and more. Read below:
I am an Oakland native, born and raised here. Growing up, the arts were always a huge part of my life. Through the AME Church, being in choir and in theatre programs, it was just a huge part of my childhood. I moved away to study at Clark Atlanta University, and there, I met some really pivotal folks, artists, makers, and curators and really got introduced to the history of arts and culture from the black perspective in a way that I hadn’t before.
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Betti Ono and Art Responders proudly present VIRAL: 25 Years From Rodney King, on view September 16 - October 22, 2016. VIRAL: 25 Years from Rodney King asks vital questions about the disparate implementation of law enforcement between white neighborhoods and communities of color over the past quarter century and offers the opportunity to memorialize the victims of this ongoing American tragedy. The exhibition features more than 80 pieces of visual art as well as music, video, and interactive games in response to incidents of police violence. Public programs and special events will take place during the exhibition run including Betti Ono's 6 Year Anniversary Celebration on October 6 and a community day of action on October 22, 2016 in conjunction with National Day of Protest Against Police Violence. Read more on our website, bettiono.com Artwork: "Do Not Cross" by Ravi Zupa
If I’m being honest, I’ve always been able to see the impact of the arts in people lives because of how deeply involved I was in arts when I was coming of age. And also witnessing how important art was in telling our own stories to being responsive to critical issues. Especially at church, for some reason,
The intention from the beginning was to open up a space that welcomed in people like you and I, and folks whose art and voices and stories might not be amplified in a gallery and in arts and culture spaces. Part of my intention in opening up in downtown, is that as the center of the city, it is a place that attracts everyone, being in the commercial part of broadway, it has access to transit. And historically, growing up here, people would gather downtown for so many reasons.
Additionally, we offer space to community organizations and nonprofits. One key program we kicked off a year and a half ago is called the Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, which is used to address issues of cultural equity and how to keep art and culture spaces of color in downtown and across the city. We definitely have a big voice in civic life and we feel like that’s an important space for us to hold as the city continues to shift. The same ways our bodies are being criminalized, so is our culture. And that shows up in how you might invest dollars in certain neighborhoods and what neighborhoods get policed for certain events. So the Coalition is the our vehicle to carry out the policy change issues we are working on.
Round two of OOMPH! is today! From 12pm to 5pm. Big thank you to all of the vendors and visitors who've made it out; All of the news this past week has been difficult but it's such a joy to see folks coming together, creating and sharing their art despite it all A photo posted by Betti Ono (@bettiono) on'
‘VIRAL: 25 Years from Rodney King' asks vital questions about the disparate implementation of law enforcement between white neighborhoods and communities of color over the past quarter century. It also offers the opportunity to memorialize victims of this ongoing American tragedy through artists’ responses to police violence. The exhibit examines the intersection of social media, the arts, and social justice advocacy in order to bring about a much-needed dialogue regarding systemic racism and its impacts on communities of color. Learn more about submitting artwork here: http://bit.ly/1YgCJsl
When we think about the level of investment (or lack thereof), of art in communities of color, the investment is not there. Partially because our stories get marginalized secondly because mainstream has not valued our histories and stories in a way where there is an equitable level of investment. So we don’t have enough art spaces to tell the stories that we need to. And on top of that, if in fact you are also challenging the status quo like we are and flipping the gallery model on its head, that’s not something the status-quo would support.
Because the values are so different, it’s important that our communities understand that it’s about how we multiply our resources and what we can do to be accountable to make sure our artists who are committed to telling our stories have the resources they need to do that. I understand the ethical concern, however, in most instances, when we are talking about art for communities of color, we are not talking about profit at all. Betti Ono does not make a profit, sometimes people may confuse resources and profit as if they’re the same. Profit comes after all expenses are paid, more often than not we are under-resourced to the point where artists are working for free, they cannot live, they cannot pay their rent, they can barely eat. It's not healthy.
BETTI ONO is recruiting its first cohort of YOUTH FELLOWS to join our arts + civic engagement team to mobilize people power in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition, VIRAL: 25 Years from Rodney King, a project of Art Responders + Artist Daryl Wells. The YOUTH FELLOWSHIP offers 6- 8 young leaders the opportunity to more deeply engage with the content and subject matter of the exhibition while developing their personal leadership capacity and making concrete connections to the significant role and relationship between artists, civic engagement and social change. Read more and apply here: https://bettiono.com/youthfellows/ A photo posted by Betti Ono (@bettiono) on'
As much of a struggle as it is on a daily basis to be bombarded by the racism and hate that shows up, if we can get time to turn off our phones, get off social media and just unplug and be with our family and celebrate what is good about ourselves, that is nourishment. I really do feel like when we are overwhelmed with action and activity that we can lose sight of the simple ways we can tap into our resilience. None of this would be possible if there wasn't a slew of people who deemed it viable to support. We need to be the source for each other and take turns holding space for each other.