The same day Sarah Burke and Holly Meadows-Smith attended the Women's March in Oakland, a local activist group put a call out for volunteers to help build temporary housing for the homeless. The contrast between the march's popularity and the substantially smaller participation in a more practical form of activism stood out to the two best friends. "There was such a clear disconnect between that," Burke tells Creators. "What if instead of marching, all those people had come together to build houses for house-less people?"
After attending a talk by Bobby Seale, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Burke and Meadows-Smith started brainstorming ways they could harness the energy of Women's March into a more sustained form of activism. So when the opportunity arose to curate a show at Gallery 2301 in Oakland, they created Anti Lab, a resource center for creative resistance that's free and open to the public through May 13.
When I visit Anti-Lab on a recent evening, a small group of twentysomethings is watching a livestream of a lecture by feminist scholar Donna Haraway, the author of A Cyborg Manifesto. The two curators walk me through the small, colorful space: In one corner, there's a library of radical texts by the likes of Audre Lorde and Tupac Shakur, curated by local writer and artist Carrie Kholi. Burke gestures to a nearby Xerox machine, explaining that anyone can scan copies of the texts to keep, disseminate, or make zines. There are also printouts of various know-your-rights pamphlets, a button making station, and an iPad with a printer and art supplies for making political posters.
"We had been talking about how all of these artists we follow were putting out open-source projects that were different from the work they typically make," says Burke, pointing to a felt poster with the word "RESIST!" by Stephanie Syjuco. The piece includes instructions on how to recreate it. "That got us thinking about this idea of resource sharing and the power of replicability in mobilizing people politically."
Anti Lab also hosts events and workshops several times a week led by local artists and activists. There's been a workshop on how to fight evictions (always a relevant topic in a rapidly gentrifying city) and a class on how to turn old t-shirts into panties to curb environmental waste and consumerism. Up next is a wheatpasting workshop with Oree Originol, the artist known for his portraits of victims of police brutality, medical training for safety at protests, a trans passport photo booth, a talk on the epidemic of missing black teen girls by Hijabi Chronicles, and more.
"We're lucky in the Bay that there are so many types of people making art," says Meadows-Smith of the diverse communities Anti Lab serves.
Throughout Anti Lab's programming, visitors have been filling out cards printed with the question, "If you could destroy anything, what would it be?" for a piñata installation by Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik and Piñatas Las Morenitas. When it's time for Anti Lab close on May 13, attendees will have a chance to smash the piñata filled with their reflections on what needs to change in the world. The curators hope the act of destruction acts as an invitation to go forth and build something new.