Art and Crisis Entwine in New Publication About Downtown Oakland

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From the back cover of 'Terrain.' (Courtesy of publication)

Two months after its close, how do we even begin to take stock of everything that happened in 2020? Some aspects of the year were immediately tangible—emergencies that required emergency responses—while the causes and lingering effects of those emergencies may take years, perhaps decades, to truly parse.

In Terrain, a new publication published by Pro Arts Gallery & Commons, East Bay artists, writers and organizers narrow their focus to the area of downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt in 2020, approaching that particular temporal landscape through a variety of forms: essay, manifesto, poetry and first-person stories of supporting last summer’s protests.

The end result, edited by Sam Lefebvre (a former KQED Arts & Culture staff writer), is packaged as a beautifully designed, Risograph-printed booklet now available in an edition of 200 from Pro Arts. Its contents move from a critical analysis of last summer’s Black Lives Matter murals to localized distinctions between different types of mutual aid. Between these bigger-picture essays, more personal perspectives emerge. In one of these moments, the members of Moments Cooperative & Community Space (which took over the lease at the former E.M. Wolfman Books) set out their guiding principles, explaining that “community care is a denial of scalability, of efficiency. It is moving at the pace of the slowest among us, so we can arrive at the peak together and share the view.”

Terrain is the kind of text I imagine we’ll be looking at for years to come, especially as we seek to remember and recapture the energy that brought about so much communal effort in the face of the enormous hardships of 2020. And in its sharply critical questioning of that energy, it’s a reminder of the constant need to ask who and what such efforts serve.

Five Terrain contributors—essay writers alex cruse and Julian Francis Park; Tara Marsden of Moments Cooperative & Community Space; designer Dio Brooks; and editor Lefebvre—will join in a conversation at 6pm on Thursday, Feb. 11 for The Lab’s Forum series. Details here.

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