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Local artists in residence speak at Kala Art Institute

on June 26, 2009

Three vastly different young artists presented their latest work Wednesday night at the Kala Art Institute’s new studio space on San Pablo Avenue near the Berkeley-Oakland border.


Poster by Favianna Rodriguez

About 30 artists, instructors and community members gathered in a small, high-ceilinged room off of the main studio to drink wine and participate in a discussion that ranged from globalization, existentialism and Derrida to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and psychological issues about self-control.

Favianna Rodriguez, 30, an Oakland native whose parents immigrated from Peru, presented print after print of colorful, social justice-centered posters, most centered around a key phrase or word.

“I view art as a tool to talk about justice, build community and mobilize people,” she said, adding that her work has been displayed and used in different countries to rally people to causes as varied as water rights, green movement disenfranchisement and immigrant labor activism.

photo from Jordan Essoe's installation Semaphores

photo from Jordan Essoe’s installation Semaphores

Jordan Essoe, also 30, displayed three detailed explanations of his art installations, which focus on social, psychological issues of identity, exile, property and war.  He cited inspiration from sources as varied as Camus, the Charlton Heston film Omega Man, Borges and Ariel Sharon.  He incorporated his own blood from chronic nose-bleeds onto a map of Israel and the occupied territories and used semen to create a diptych series in two of his installations.


Some Semblance of Order (Detail) by Nichole Maury

Nichole Maury, an assistant professor of art at Western Michigan University and the last artist to speak, said that while her work was not ‘global’ in context it succinctly describes her own world and her attempts to deal with the past. Her rigid grids over screen prints were about imposing order and organization on chaos through the comfort of repetitive action, she said.

After each artist finished explaining the Powerpoint presentations of their work, the audience asked questions.  The conversation, as it is apt to do in Berkeley, deviated towards the abstract.

One man asked Essoe if he had heard of Derrida and then proceeded to compare his work to the deconstructionists’ literary theory.  Another audience-member brought up existentialism and identity theory.

An Array of Plausible Perspectives by Nichole Maury

An Array of Plausible Perspectives by Nichole Maury

The crowd was small enough and the room intimate enough to engage in lengthy conversations with the artists.  Essoe mentioned that his dad (sitting in the front row) had supplied one of the photos in his installation – the one of three prostitutes.  “Thanks Dad,” he called out.

During breaks people browsed work in the studio or admired the fruits of the summer high school print-making workshop, which has been going on all this week and concludes on the 26th.  Cartoon-like animal prints attached to clothespins hung on strings on the wall.  Other prints, including one of blue-green, exquisitely drawn Japanese houses scattered around a landscape, sat on tables wrapped in plastic, waiting to be examined or purchased.

The building also housed several ancient-looking pieces of print-making equipment which, combined with the modern colors and designs of some of the 100 artists in residence, created a pleasing amalgam of old and new objects.

“At the most basic level we are a center for artists to create art and display art and teach art,” said Patrick Stockstill, Program Coordinator for Artists’ Residencies and Classes.

Poster by Favianna Rodriguez

Poster by Favianna Rodriguez

Kala, which is pronounced ‘Kah-Laaw’, has its main office in the third floor of the old Heinz Ketchup factory on at 1060 Heinz Avenue in Berkeley.  They opened up their new studio space on San Pablo in May.  They originally opened in 1974 in San Francisco and moved to Berkeley a year later, Stockstill said.

Besides sending artists into public schools around the East Bay to teach workshops, Kala functions as a gallery, class space and print media archive.  They serve more than 1,000 students a year and have partnered with several smaller studios in Oakland to display the work that their artists produce.


Lead image: a poster by Favianna Rodriguez.

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