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by Manuel Tzunum
Dear muralist Rocky Baird: Take a deep breath, listen carefully to those who disagree with your mural, be greatful, and finally, take some reflection before doing what you can still do: Apologize to the local Native community, modify the mural in a way that accommodates the views of a wider audience, and better educate yourself about what Native and non-Native protesters want you to know. This would be a way to be accountable for your commitment to anti-oppressive public art, in particular depicting the indigenous peoples of this land.
Rocky Baird’s nostalgic murals have the tendency to mourn, in a romantic way, the loss of sensibilities and cultures. In his new mural “The Capture of the Solid. The Escape of the Soul” (25-by-10-foot on the side of Gaylord's Caffe Espresso at 41st Street and Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, CA), the artist depicts the downfall of the Ohlone people and culture, how under oppressive circumstances (in the colonized society of the U.S.) the soul and spirit of the Indian remains, in his own words, “intact” for it “can’t be boxed.” Though the depictions in this mural assume a priori relationship between the ideology and practices of the colonial power, it fails to uphold the grievances and reaffirm the struggles of Native people.

He myopically draws lessons from the mainstream of history (Indians “ran about naked”). Instead of legitimizing subaltern narratives, expose colonizing structures, break forced silences, he furthers the colonization of public knowledge and space by graphically muting voices. Decolonizing, anti-oppression public art must face, explicitly, this country’s long history of ethnic cleansing, in which the U.S. government, for instance, drove millions of Native people off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations; it may also help unravel and celebrate their resistance and cultural reaffirmations. The challenge for anti-oppression artists is to upset the national bubble (culture), to inspire us to create a different history for the next seven generations, to help people think outside the boundaries of Anglo-American hegemony.

To be made accountable for his commitment to anti-oppression art, an artist would 1) explicitly address the root causes of racism or other oppressions; 2) serve disenfranchised communities and create cultural exchanges within underrepresented communities; and 3) develop new relationships and/or strengthen existing ones among artists/arts organizations and non-arts groups.

Lets work together with members of the community and other artists to create art that has direct relevance for the community.

There is a plan reception for, plus an organized protest against, the mural at 3 p.m. on April 29. Come one! Come all!
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