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Mary Shaw, who is in charge of the installation lighting for the "Unrestricted" gallery, sets up the lights for Friday's open at the Transmission Gallery in West Oakland.

Art gets political at West Oakland gallery

on October 5, 2012

With the election season underway, nine artists will have the chance to express their political beliefs through art on Friday night at the Transmission Gallery in West Oakland.

The show, titled “Unrestricted,” aims to not only raise political awareness of this year’s presidential election, the environment and immigration issues in the United States, but to also help give artists a chance to show work that typically doesn’t get shown, said Ruth Santee, the gallery’s owner and director. “With the energy of the elections, we decided to have a political show,” she said. “Political work doesn’t usually get seen. If you are too overt, people have the tendency of not showing it.”

“Unrestricted” will showcase work from California artists Kirk Crippens, Pablo Cristi, Jeremiah Jenkins, Joyce Kohl, Keith Hale, Diego Mora, Diran Lyons and Gary-Paul Barbosa Prince and New York-based artist Sue Coe, who has been involved in making political art scene since the 1980s. The gallery will feature paintings, photography and 3-D artwork.

A multicolored two-foot-tall papier-mâché sculpture of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer addresses the controversial “show me your papers” law, which was formally known as SB 1070. The law gained national attention when it was first passed in 2010, giving law enforcement officers the right to question the immigration status of people who are suspected of being in the country illegally. The piece features Brewer with a big horror movie like grin on her face and an Arizona license plate that says “No SB1070” in front of her.

A pyramid of shiny golden porcelain burritos titled “California Gold,” representing labor and the economy in California, will also be featured at Friday’s night opening. The burritos represent “an intersection of low and high culture” said Bay Area artist Pablo Cristi. “The burritos are a cultural hybrid. There are so many burrito spots and it’s such an iconic food with people in the Southwest. It’s a very precious thing, but it’s also cheap street food,” said Cristi. “The idea of being cheap and precious at the same time is a good metaphor of the labor struggle in California.”

Some of the artists hope that showing their work in a political art show will not only help them gain exposure, but also bring people together and spark a dialogue about politics. “When it comes to political shows, it’s the purest form of art and communications,” said Gray-Paul Barbosa Prince, an Oakland-based artist who will feature two pieces including a painting titled “Una Cena de Narcos,” which depicts how the ongoing drug war between cartels and how it effects everyone in Mexico.

“The piece is about the current Mexican drug war that has claimed over 50,000 lives in the past five years, the piece is a layout of the situation there,” said Prince. “A lot of Americans are not really aware of the crisis down there.”

The painting features a big dinner table laid with severed heads on plates. Around the table, people from all social classes, such as military officials, a waitress, a father and child, and drug dealers all gather at the table. Near one side, a female figure representing justice being shot in the head by a uniformed Mexican official. “It’s not the typical piece,” said Prince. “Not a lot of interior designers are going to say, ‘We need 20 of those.’”

“I like what’s going on in Oakland. It’s a growing art scene,” said artist Jeremiah Jenkins, who is showing three pieces in Friday’s show including the BP company’s logo on the gallery’s floor, a piece which was inspired by the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Jenkins said he wanted to take something “negative and add something positive to it”

“Art is spreading out into parts of Oakland that need some vibration,” he said of the new gallery show, “and this is something that could jump-start it.”

The exhibit will debut on Friday with an opening reception from 6 pm to 9 pm. The show runs through November 17. For more information, visit

1 Comment

  1. Diego Mora on October 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Gallery opening

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