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Decolonized Poetry Takes Center Stage in an Exhibit at Good Mother Gallery

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Wide painting with line of dancers patterned in figure-8
Brian Kwon, 'Time is the Act of Looking Back.' (Small Press Traffic)

Since arriving on the Bay Area’s literary scene in 2017, Mimi Tempestt has lived up to her name — at open mics and poetry readings, she’s a tempestuous force of nature.

The Mills College graduate and future City Lights author knows how to harness a storm of language and imagery with her magnetic presence, reciting rapid-fire poems that often explore themes of womanhood and diasporic liberation. Now, for the first time in her career, the verbal spellcaster will be curating an art exhibit at Good Mother Gallery: whistling the avant-garde.

The exhibit (which borrows its name after a line of poetry in Tempestt’s forthcoming book, the delicacy of embracing spirals) will showcase the powerfully kaleidoscopic energy of poets like herself who are living — and fearlessly breaking barriers — in the Bay Area. This isn’t your grandma’s tea-sipping poetry by the fireside, though; it’s poetry forged from the modern fires of a hyper-fragmented, violently gentrified Bay Area.

“I’m not a fan of popular rhetorical redundancies. I loathe perfectionists,” Tempestt says. “I’m interested in nuances, complexities, contradictions, chaos, experiments, discomforts and ideological confrontations. Art that makes you take a second glance or forces you to look away.”

Having started out as a “2 a.m. street rat” who coordinated punk and hip-hop events around Los Angeles, Tempestt is drawn to the rawness of creative expression and hopes to display that as part of her year-long curatorial residency with Small Press Traffic, who tapped her for this debut collaboration, with the support of the California Arts Council and We Are The Voices.


With representation and reclamation at the forefront of whistling the avant-garde, Tempestt is interested in blurring — and completely erasing — the lines between Eurocentric art values.

“Because ‘avant-garde’ is French, it’s allotted to whiteness,” she says. “By crossing out the term and simultaneously using it, I’m queering and reclaiming it. My vision is to showcase and celebrate that artists and poets of color don’t have to wait for others to catch up. We’re going to take up space, claim what’s rightfully ours and power forward.”

In addition to art contributions from Thad Higa, Brian Kwon, Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, Lyn Patterson, Crismerly Santibañez and Alexandra Velasco, the space will offer generative sessions, poetry workshops and discussions on craft and poetics — including “Look at the Moon! Intuition for Artists of Color Workshop” with the poet Mihee Kim.

Though aimed at uplifting marginalized voices, particularly women, femme and trans writers, the gallery is open to everyone, and encourages cross-cultural discussions by engaging with poems presented as visual art, performance and multimedia practices.

“I got curious about what [these poets] would do if I offered them the playground of the exhibition,” Tempestt says. “Some of the artists I’ve worked with or known for years. Others were beautiful accidents that landed on my lap.”

whistling the avant-garde’ will be on view May 13–June 2 at Good Mother Gallery (408 13th St., Oakland). The series kicks off with a poetry reading on Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. and the closing event will take place Friday, June 2 at 7 p.m.

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