FEATURED ARTIST: CARINA LOMELI
What is the overlap for you when it comes to art and activism, if at all?
I see art and activism as the same thing. The life of an artist, for me, requires the direct engagement in community. I observe the world with concern for the future and express my anxiety in my paintings. Turning the lens on myself, I continually strive to do less harm in the world by changing my behavior and try to expose others to reality which they avoid through television and repetitive lifestyle.
To continually renew my view of the world is very important for me. For example, I ride my bicycle a lot. This changes your perspective: you are not in the closed, protected, walled off confine of a car, nor the safe pedestrian zones. To be a bicyclist in the city is both dangerous and exhilarating, a self-awareness of yourself and the concrete jungle like nothing else. It’s the best way to observe and participate in everyday life of San Francisco. The bicycle, believe it or not, has been my stepping stone to direct activism.
Even though I had been volunteering for many years, I was only able to clarify how exactly I could assist with change in this world happened when I was Introduced to Tiny Aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee, the founder of POOR Magazine before her transition to the spirit journey, the founder who I did not have the pleasure of meeting when I started volunteering as a translator.
What does the occupy movement mean to you personally? How do you see artists fit into it?
As an Individual I have always fought for injustices in my work, to the point that I have had to quit in order to be at peace. For me occupy started in 2006 when I worked at the Cafe Gratitude in the Sunset. Matthew and Terces Engelhart were the owners of this establishment as they are now also the owners of Gracias Madre in the Mission. I witnessed racism, classism and cultural theft from the community on a daily basis. They forced non-english workers to attend an event called tantric breathing with the entire work staff. It was an all-day event where breathing heavily for hours causes the feeling of what they termed “re-birth.” They tried to get me to go but since I knew that there was no pay and my religion was practiced between me and my god I did not attend. Other Migrants that did not know their rights were told that if they did not attend they would lose their jobs, others were told that they would be paid. The day after, a poor 47 year woman from Peru told me how scared she was to be at the event and said “paresia que se les estaba saliendo el diablo” thats spanish for (It looked liked the Devil was coming out of them) she had to flee before the event was over, but they Insisted that she stayed. I had told her she didn’t have to go but she was pressured into it. This was my last straw, after that, all the workers that attended this “sacred event” isolated me and made me feel unwelcome.
I think that before we express love or acceptance we need to fight for those who are unjustly taken advantage of. In 2010 POOR Magazine Hosted Gentrifuckation Tours “R” US where we stopped at 5 different hipster suites to Perform our chant of removal, you can see it on YOU TUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4KmtdS-mQ0&feature=plcp&context=C35d4dcfUDOEgsToPDskKHlgmbMTlMEGVSL56iROkp
Here is my excerpt that I wrote and read to all that were dinning at Gracias Madre that night:
“ You are taking our sacred symbol of The Virgin Mary, La Virgen de Guadalupe, the mother of compassion and forgiveness as a way to exploit our sacred beliefs. Do not use La Virgen De Guadalupe when you don’t believe in her, respect her or worship her, especially when you are serving a community that does not know her story, why she is so sacred and why she belongs to the People of Mexico. As a Xicana Mexican American Painter – artist, Illustrator I condemn the artist that accepted to paint a mural of an image he knows nothing about and worse, to use it to gentrify the Mission. It would be beautiful inside a church but to use for a business that discriminates, lies and is just trying to build an empire of transformation, confusion and greed is wrong.” I would also like to point out that all the Cafe Gratitudes including the recently opened Gracias Madre will be closing for good, due to lawsuits from two ex- employees.
Manifestations like these are the only weapon that I as an Artist have, but this was way before the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movements. You can Imagine the complete joy and inspiration that I get whenever I take part of the Occupy movement, I love talking to people, especially those that are awake to the power we each carry in this Police State. Our voices are our most powerful weapon. My voice comes out in the form of images, colors and visions. Even though I see the change that the Occupy movement has created, it is still in its infancy and today more than ever I feel a bit let down by the movement. As an artist that has experienced globalization, colonization and institution negligence I understand the importance of strategic terminology. Since the start of Occupy Oakland Indigenous Communities show up to support and have put forth the proposition to change the name to Decolonize Oakland Instead of using the oppressors military language. Even though they voted and the proposition won 68% of the votes, census was not met because 90% of votes are required. This is a disappointment to me because clearly 68% is the majority. Even though some claim the Issue divides us, I know that overcoming this obstacle will make us stronger and more united. As an artist of the 99% I will push for the proper terminology of this movement.
What is POOR magazine and what is your involvement?
POOR Magazine is a publication arts and education project that was started in 1996 by an indigenous, landless mother and daughter who struggled with extreme poverty, incarceration and criminalization in the US. POOR Magazine, the organization, is a poor people led/indigenous people led non-profit, grassroots, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, arts, education and solutions for youth, adults and elders in poverty across Pachamama. My collaboration with POOR started in 2008 and has evolved in a way that I had never expected. POOR Magazine hosts press conferences, fundraisers, speak outs, education in the arts, literature, documentation, advocacy, radio, journalism, poetry and healing. Through my networking, organizing and teaching in this organization I have been able to work with the most amazing poets and youth that are eager to learn about art theory. I don’t just teach art, I also learn from the students, we do not believe in hierarchy, “Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student” like my co-worker Ruyata Akio McGlothin always says.
At any given event I sketch out the paintings and get the community to add their own art and abilities. I love to teach and paint and it has become the focus of my work. At the same time I take pictures during every event I participate in and have no trouble finding my next painting. Recently POOR has launched two big projects. One is the publishing of our contribution to the Decolonize (Occupy) movements all around the country and the world. The Decolonizers Guide to A Humble Revolution a POOR Press Production was distributed to over 150 different occupy sites and it includes some of my art and teachings. Available now on a sliding scale at www.poormagazine.org. The second big project is the HOMEFULNESS Project: The Struggle, the Vision, the Poor Peoples-led Revolution! A Real Solution to Houselessness: a sweat equity, permanent co-housing, education, arts, micro-business and social change project for landless/houseless and formerly houseless families. I am excited and honored to be part of these great projects and witness real change for local marginalized communities in the bay area. Even though every day it is a struggle and a lot of volunteering is required, I know It is necessary for a better tomorrow.