Projet En Vue hosts final gallery show in Oakland

on June 5, 2012

It’s Sunday afternoon at the Macarthur B. Arthur Gallery in North Oakland as Saskia Levy-Sheon chooses songs on her laptop to play as background music. It’s the last day of her gallery show. As she does this, a local resident who only gives his name as Pierre comes in and takes a look around the exhibit.

“Man this is beautiful!” Pierre exclaims as he examines the photographs and artwork arranged neatly around the gallery. “It’s about time somebody started represented a different side of Oakland.”

“Thank you,” says Levy-Sheon smiling.

As Pierre exits, more people begin to arrive to see portraits of Oakland residents during the two-day Projet En Vue showcase. Underneath each photograph are headphones attached to tape recorders that play audio from interviews with each person in the portrait.

Since February, Levy-Sheon and Sati Faulks, the other co-founder of Projet En Vue, have been walking the streets of Oakland, searching for interesting people to profile in the neighborhood and documenting their stories and experiences through audio interviews and 35mm photography. The project features a website with about 20 audio interviews with accompanying text and still photographs, and is meant to illustrate the diversity of people and culture in the Oakland community.

“I hope this project will help change people’s perception about Oakland,” said Levy-Sheon. “Instead of listening to the media, we listen to the people.”

The 18-year-old Oakland native says she met her partner Faulks a few months ago while working in a downtown law office. Once she mentioned her interest in doing an oral history project involving Oakland, they agreed to work together. Since they began, the duo has spoken to a wide spectrum of people including graffiti artists, musicians, and political activists.

“I’ve been everywhere in the country touring and I knew that when I got back to Oakland, this is the place to raise my children,” said Xavier Dphrepaulezz, one of the subjects featured in the gallery, who came to visit with his family. Dphrepaulezz, founder of Blackball Universe record label, is a producer and musician who moved to East Oakland at the age of 11. “This type of project helps bypass the negative stereotypes about the people living here. Collectively, the exhibit tells the story of Oakland through people’s eyes,” he said.

Noise fluctuated in the gallery as those in attendance quietly listened to the interviews through the headphones . Once they finished, would discuss what they liked about the profiles.

“I’ve lived here for the last six years and this exhibit has the perfect sample of what it’s like to live in Oakland now,” said Asia Hassan. “After looking at the photos and listening to their stories, I feel like I know these people.”

Tomorrow Levy-Sheon and Faulks leave for a six week trip to Paris to continue with Projet En Vue. There are plans to expand the project to Barcelona and Philadelphia as well. “I’m a little rusty in my French, but I think once I arrive it will start coming back to me,” said Levy-Sheon.

Check out the Projet En Vue

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