Posts Tagged ‘protest’

Taraneh Hemami, Resistance, Luggage Store Gallery

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Through our Thursday-night experimental music series at the Luggage Store Gallery, I have seen quite a few art exhibits on the walls (and the floor, and the ceiling). The current exhibition, Resistance!, is notable for both its theme and its presentation, and worth an article of its own separate from our musical exploits.

Resistance, a solo exhibition of work by artist Taraneh Hemami, is about “the visual culture of protest.” More specifically, it presents a history of dissent in Iran and among the Iranian diaspora through reinterpretations of elements from the archive of the Iranian Students Association of Northern California (ISANC). Art shows about resistance and protest are a dime a dozen in these days after the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. This one is notable for being visually strong, with a very stylized and minimalist presentation that in some cases belies the violence of its subject.

This can be seen most clearly in Blood Curtain, in which a curtain of red beads hangs quietly in an empty corner of the gallery against monochromatic walls and curtains. It is at once beautiful and also uncomfortable with its obvious depiction of blood.

[Taraneh Hemami, Blood Curtain, 2013]

The curtain is made from 8mm glass beads and suggests a hand-crafted artifact, a theme that reappears throughout the exhibition. In Theory of Survival, portraits of martyrs from book covers are reproduced in glass frit on large panels, again in black and red. From a distance, the texture looks like carpeting, but when one looks closely the glass becomes apparent.

[Taraneh Hemami, Theory of Survival, 2010-2013]

More traditional craft can be seen a series of rugs that at first appear to be an elegant wall decoration but take on additional meaning when one realizes that these designs were from images of rugs created by prisoners. Other pieces were less subtle in their message, such as Notes from Evin Prison, named for the notorious Iranian prison that still appears in headlines today. Here, laser-cut metal is used to render both a harmless looking sign with the piece’s title as well a large and explicit figure in black and red being tortured. There were, however, more hopeful images as well. In People Power Revolution, the laser-cut metal forms depict throngs of revolutionaries. The main image of violence in this piece, a security guard being skewered, is almost cartoonish.

[Taraneh Hemami, People Power Revolution, 2013]

The prevalence of red among the pieces suggested an association with 20th century Communism in addition to blood and violence. The Communist motif was reinforced by the frequent appearance of five-pointed stars. I thought this was odd at first, because I was using the 1979 Iranian revolution and the recent protests against the Islamic regime as my reference. ISANC was actually active from 1960 to 1982, and thus its archives mostly predate the 1979 revolution and document earlier periods of resistance and protest when Leftists symbols would have been in wide use. Nonetheless, the images seemed like they could have been from the protests since 2009.

Resistance will be on display at the Luggage Store Gallery through February 28, with a closing reception that evening.

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#OccupySF march in San Francisco, November 5

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In this article, we follow the #OccupySF march in San Francisco yesterday through some Hipstamatic photos, with nods to some of the city’s architecture and icons that we passed along the way.

We began at the base of Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. It runs diagonally and separates two separate street grids that run at 45-degree angles to one another, some thing confuses not only visitors but many locals as well.

An impressive line of police ran parallel to the march. This was primarily to separate the marchers from traffic, which continued on the other side of Market Street. The interactions my group had with the police were quite cordial. One even helped us with info from the announcements at the front of the march which we could barely hear from our position.

For those who criticize the Occupy movement for not having any sort of focus, it should be noted that yesterday’s march and events were squarely focused on the banking industry and the largest banks in particular. It coincided with “Bank Transfer Day” in which large numbers of people moved their accounts from the large banks to either credit unions or community banks. San Francisco remains a large banking center. Wells Fargo still has its headquarters at the corner of Montgomery and California. We had a demonstration in front of the building.

Bank of America used to have its headquarters in San Francisco as well, at 555 California Street. 555 California is the second tallest building in San Francisco, a large imposing structure of brown granite. It is often derided, but I kind of like it as an example of modernism in an architecturally conservative city. It has a large plaza above street level common for commercial buildings from the 1970s. The march stopped here for an extended sit in.

From there we continued up California Street towards Chinatown. Here you can see the marchers passing one of our iconic cable cars.

We then turned north on Grant Avenue, the main street through the center of Chinatown.

Grant Avenue always feels a bit touristy, though it does have some great dive bars hidden away. For good inexpensive Chinese food go one block over to Stockton Street. We did, however, briefly chant in Cantonese, with the majority of us non-speakers responding with the word “Unite!”, which translates to 团结 (tuan jie in Mandarin, but I can’t find a written pronunciation for Cantonese).

At the informal boundary of Chinatown and North Beach, we turned east onto Broadway. Broadway in North Beach is about as close to a traditional red-light district as we have in San Francisco. As Broadway heads down the hill towards the Embarcadero, the neighborhoods feel a bit more ambiguous and nondescript. I have walked in the area countless times, it’s usually quiet with small buildings and lots and the shadows of the financial district and Telegraph Hill to either side.

On reaching the Embarcadero, we headed south along the wide palm-tree lined boulevard.

It is interesting to note that 25 years ago, this location was the underside of a somewhat industrial double-decker freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, that ran from the Bay Bridge to Broadway. It was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

And ended up back at the official #OccupySF camp at Justin Herman Plaza. The camp is at the south end of the plaza. The north side is another iconic modernist space that many people in the city love to hate – but I am quite fond of it. It includes the Vaillancourt Fountain which I have featured many times on this site. It is currently obscured by the construction for the temporary skating rink that goes up on the plaza every winter.

At this point, the march dissipated as the rain picked up. We are getting into the rainy season here in San Francisco, and it remains to be seen how the movement adapts.

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#OccupySF October 26

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On Wednesday, I returned home to San Francisco around 9PM and was greeted by the sounds of helicopters overhead. I went outside to the patio and saw a helicopter flying closer to CatSynth HQ and lower to the ground than I had ever seen. We had all seen what had happened across the bay in Oakland the day before, with tragic results. Twitter was alight with concerns and rumors that a raid of #OccupySF was possible, and the official protest feed exhorted followers to “come join us”. So I did.

There was a fairly large crowd when I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza, and a rather festive atmosphere. In the center of the plaza, north of the camp, there was a large circular procession like a picket line. A small brass and drum band was playing a funky riff. Indeed with the bass line, pentatonic scale and four-on-the-floor rhythm it had a bit of an old disco feel! You can hear a bit in this video:

The sound from the iPhone recording was not that great, so the lower brass instruments are a bit soft. But there was a bass line, and the bass line is key to the disco/funk feel (something I suspect most Tea Party rallies lack).

However, underneath the party-like veneer it was a bit tense. The nearby BART station was shutdown (as were the stations in downtown Oakland), and reports were flying over Twitter of various groups of police massing, most notably in the Potrero Hill area where they were seen to be boarding MUNI busses. This led to all sorts of jokes about the fact that if they were riding MUNI they would probably never make it here. But jokes aside, organizers and participants took the threat of a raid quite seriously. We had frequent drills for those who were going to hold the camp (and thus risk arrest), and those who were going to form a more diffuse perimeter. There were advisories on what to do in the event of tear gas being used. It involved vinegar. It did not sound pleasant at all.

Hours went by, alternating between the festive party-like scene, the drills, and an open mic. No sign of any police activity – a fire truck with horns blaring did pull up near the camp, but that was it. Still, conflicting reports and rumors continued to circulate. There was even talk that people from #OccupyOakland who wanted to come across the bay to support us would attempt to cross the Bay Bridge, which is a busy freeway even at night and has no pedestrian sidewalks of any sort. (It was amusing to follow that from the point of view an anthropomorphized @SFBayBridge). This of course did not actually happen, though a small number of people from Oakland were able to come across by using alternate BART stations or other means and did speak to the assembled crowd, including accounts of what had happened on Tuesday and what people in Oakland were doing that evening, and a moving account of what happened to Scott Olsen.

Several political figures from the city were on hand as well, including several members of the Board of Supervisors (our city council equivalent) and a few mayoral candidates. Current Mayer Ed Lee was not present. However, my own Supervisor, Jane Kim, whose district covers my neighborhood as well as the plaza itself was present – I had actually run into her and (almost literally) earlier in the evening but not recognized her at first. At first, the officials started speaking so a small crowd of media people around 2AM, but after a back and forth with protest representatives, they came to speak to us, using the official “mic check” and call-and-response system:

[video by josborn25 on YouTube.]

There was one really annoying heckler, even though he seemed to be echoing the immediate and long-term concerns of many in the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was not respecting the mic system, the speakers or the audience, and its not clear to me if we was really an agitator rather than an overly enthusiastic supporter. For example, he was demanding portable bathrooms, even though the city had already provided several that were present and available at the time.

In some ways it was a lonely experience. I did not really have any close friends there. But I did feel connected to a community online on Twitter, with people I know across the bay in Oakland who sent and solicited updates, and with readers beyond who let me know they supported my being there.

I ended up departing around 3AM. It felt like a raid was not likely. And I was happy to see the next morning that it did not happen. It’s not clear if there was a raid in the works that was called off or if it was never really planned. It will also be interesting to see how the movement and the events this week and next week play into local politics (we do have a mayoral election coming up in less than two weeks).

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Fun with Highways: Wall Street


Some streets take on a status beyond their physical extent. One of those is Wall Street, which is simultaneously an actual street in New York City, a neighborhood name, and shorthand for massive finance and investment industries of the United States.

Wall Street itself is quite short, and runs from South Street along the East River to Broadway. It’s terminus on the east side is underneath the South Street Viaduct (why a duck?) that carries the FDR drive to the tip of Manhattan and underneath Battery Park. The Broadway ends at historic Trinity Church. It is not a part of the city that I know particularly well. Most of my adventures don’t take me further south than Tribeca or the Brooklyn Bridge. It is interesting to look at the street names and arrangement, narrow streets with names like “Pine” and “Cedar”, “Front Street” and “Water Street” that we would associate with numerous coastal American cities and towns but not distinctly with New York (San Francisco has all four street names, as does Santa Cruz where I lived for several years). The streets are evidence of the long history in this part of the city.

The current #occupywallstreet protests are not actually centered on Wall Street, but in a park to the north along Liberty Street (officially named Zuccotti Park), just one big block away from the World Trade Center site and the new 9-11 Memorial. But things have grown since the initial encampment and march and while it was largely ignored by the mainstream media for the first couple of weeks or addressed as little more than a curiosity or object of derision. Now it appears in the news every day, and the protests themselves are growing organically. Here is an image yesterday from protesters occupying Foley Square, several blocks to the north near City Hall and the off-ramps from the Brooklyn Bridge (from the official website).

And a recent report of the massive march via Democracy Now!:

Towards the end of the video, one can see what happens as protesters approached the actual Wall Street.

If you want to support the movement but can’t make it to New York or one of the local “occupations” that have spread to other cities, you can send donations, or even order them a New York pizza courtesy of Liberatos Pizza. And we all know that New York pizza is better than what we get here on the west coast. They do recommend ordering vegetarian or vegan options, but the official “Occu-pie” looks suspiciously like pepperoni:

In the publication “Occupied Wall Street Journal”, they print a map of the plaza encampment:

I like how they label the sculpture on the plaza as “Weird Red Thing”. As reported in Hyperallergic, the “weird red thing” is actually Mark di Suvero’s “Joie de Vivre”. I quite like the sculpture, with its clean lines and curves, and red color against the grays of the Wall Street buildings.

[Photo by ElvertBarnes on flickr]

I will be visiting New York again in November, and I’m sure I will be downtown quite a bit…

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Marriage Equality (aka "No on 8") Rally, November 15


On Saturday, demonstrations were held throughout the country in support of marriage equality and against the recent passage of Proposition 8 here in California (as well as similar measures in other states). Of course our local event in San Francisco was one of the more prominent.

It was an exceptionally warm and sunny weekend here, considering that it’s the middle of November. It was already getting hot when people started gathering at City Hall ahead of the 10:30 start time.

And the crowd grew rather quickly.

Indeed, it was hard to see the speakers, or hear them. In that sense, it was a bit frustrating and gave the event a sense of poor planning. At the same time, it was great that the crowd was so large. And it was worth it to be there in support of my friends and all the other people whose marriage rights were taken away. This is part of the way to win them back.

Some more colorful banners, playing on the California and U.S. Flags (we featured the “rainbow Bear Flag” in a past Wordless Wednesday).

After a while of standing in the heat and attempting to listen to speakers, we all decided to march from City Hall along Market Street towards the Castro District.

That is where my participation ended for the day, but this is too important an issue to simply end at a street corner…

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