It was an uneasy night in downtown Oakland. As dusk fell, three police helicopters still circled, casting long spotlights into the streets below. It was the evening after the light sentencing for Mehsehrle in the Oscar Grant case was handed down, and the police were prepared for another outbreak of grief and violence at the outcome of the case. Shop fronts were covered in plywood and reports from news sources and twitter were all over the place–people were burning cars, they were rampaging through neighborhoods, and protestors were being rounded up en masse and arrested.
Still, the group of Uptown businesses that participated in First Friday, the monthly art walk, made it clear that they were remaining open. A smaller-than-usual crowd milled around 23rd street, eating garlic noodles, cupcakes, and homemade sausages from the food carts and buying early gifts for the holidays from the local vendors selling their DIY goods. Plainclothes police officers wading through the crowd seemed tense, then relaxed as the night wound on without any displays of violence. Oakland struggles, but lives on.
It was within this milieu that the Black Diamonds Shining Group show opened at Mama Buzz. Since its opening in 2003, Mama Buzz has become a beloved fixture in a rapidly changing neighborhood, hosting art shows and musical acts, providing a hub for the local art scene. The Black Diamonds Shining show surpasses most offerings there, with a mix of several canvases and multimedia art blending with drawings that cover the walls in true graffiti style. The Black Diamonds Shining is “an Oakland based afro galactic black arts collective” comprised of the artists Ras Terms, Safety First, Deadeyes, Antjuan Jones, AshRose, Brooks Golden and Larry Dobie, many of whom have a decade of experience in the Oakland street art scene, with signature styles that residents of the city quickly come to recognize. Many of the works are executed in tandem, with two or three artists participating to create a single piece. The collective’s art is highly influenced by not only graffiti art, but classical and pop culture references, as well as ancient rock art, which they recognize as part of their tradition.
As a collective, their art is both extremely local and highly political. The collective participates in many “live painting” events, usually hosted at DJ nights at bars like Era or Club Oasis in downtown Oakland but also at rallies and protests. Before their First Friday opening, Safety First and AshRose painted for the Oscar Grant protest in front of the courthouse, producing a work depicting a black mother with the words, “I hope my child gets home safe.” Similar tributes are on the walls at Mama Buzz. Though the canvases will come down and the space will get painted over, the show will be remembered as a bright light in an otherwise dark hour in Oakland.
The Black Diamonds Shining show at Mama Buzz closes on December 2nd.