Most fences are built to separate spaces, but there is one fence in Oakland’s Jack London District that’s designed to connect community members. A stretch of chain-link along Embarcadero West between Webster and Franklin Streets has been adorned with six-foot-tall photographs as part of The Oakland Fence Project, an initiative aimed at telling Oakland stories. The outdoor installation is a collection of images that capture the faces and places unique to Oakland while also drawing attention to the issues and challenges that many of the city’s longtime residents face on a daily basis.
For people with smartphones, the artwork also offers an interactive experience. The Oakland Fence Project has an accompanying augmented reality mobile app called OaklandFence, coded by local developers from Makerlab. Certain images on the fence are marked by a red recording dot in the bottom corner. When the user holds his or her phone up to them, the app recognizes the image and plays a corresponding one-minute movie by a local filmmaker. Each tells a moving story about Oakland natives, offering the extended narrative behind the image. With a mix of interviews and candid clips, the films dig into a discussion of the social issues that many of the photographs highlight: poverty, racism, and educational disparities, to name a few.
In addition, at the end of each video, the app presents the user with three ways of connecting to the community. The first is a link to a creative marketplace where they can support the local artist by purchasing prints of the images featured on the fence; the second is a link that connects users to volunteer and donation opportunities at local nonprofit organizations that work on the issue discussed in the video; and the third link takes users to a page that explains how they, their photos, and their stories can be part of The Oakland Fence Project, too.
One of the featured photographs by East Oakland native Brittani “Brittsense” Sensabaugh portrays a group of children standing behind a chain-link fence. The mobile app brings the children to life, as they run across a playground in a film by JJ Harris. The video is a dynamic portrait of youthful, loud personalities. Sensabaugh delivers a passionate voice over, describing the beauty and strength of the people of East Oakland, whom she proudly claims as her extended family. At the end, the app provides a link to the East Oakland Youth Development Center, where users can get involved in developing the social and leadership capacities of youth from that area.
Another photograph, by acclaimed Oakland photographer and California College of the Arts professor Chris Johnson, is a portrait of Tyrone Burns, owner of Pull Up Your Pants barbershop. The accompanying short film by Tyrone Burns tells the story of how Burns created the concept for the barbershop based on his desire to promote respect in the community through leadership by being a positive role model — particularly for young men. The following link leads to The Hidden Genius Project, a program designed to connect underserved, young Black men with mentors and skill-building opportunities.
Overall, the project’s mission is to use art as a platform to promote social change and further solidarity and resilience in the community in order to spark a movement for urban renewal. In an introductory video on the project’s official website (OaklandFenceProject.org), Wendy Levy, the project’s producer, explains the ways in which the curators and contributors of the project hope to have a positive impact on their community: “Our stories need to be told and they need to be part of the fabric of social change, be part of the landscape that sets the environment where healing can happen.”
The installation in Jack London is only one piece of a much larger picture. According to the project’s website, the ultimate goal of the project is to replicate it on different fences throughout Oakland, making it a citywide photography installation. The Oakland Fence Project also aims to build the project further by hosting photography workshops, designing curriculum to help teachers create fence projects at their schools, and collaborate with Oakland businesses to sponsor sections of the fence. The ongoing project has a grand scope, and will create a dynamic visual landscape throughout the city, expanding the installation one fence at a time.
Until the end of July, you can also see a few of the pieces from the project in an exhibit at Omi Gallery (2323 Broadway, Oakland). On July 26, Omi Gallery will host a panel with the project’s artists for the exhibit’s closing night at 6:30 p.m.
Additionally, all photos and videos are uploaded into an online gallery on the project’s website. The website makes it possible for anyone in Oakland to upload and tag their photographs of the city, truly making the project representative of the community it aims to serve.