The limited-edition artwork of nine winners of Oakland Public Library’s 2024 library card contest combines to create a vibrant, celebratory mini-exhibit of the city of Oakland and its people. Honoring Black artistry, culture and history, and reflecting the spirit of Oakland during Black History Month, the winners of this year’s contest were chosen by a panel of judges from among a curated finalists list of 39 drawn from over 100 designs submitted by members of the community. The limited-edition cards were selected from three age groups: children ages 5 to 12, teenagers ages 13 to 17, and adults.
A showcase exhibition of the artwork and a public reception Feb. 3 at the library’s Dimond branch at 3565 Fruitvale Ave. introduced the cards and award-winning artists. The artists featured in the three age groups are children Carlo Barravino, Lucas Oda and Molly Wolferson; teens Kiara Hunter, Cora Vera Keith and Carmen Lieu; and adults Kelly To, Ajuan Mance and Shomari Smith.
The contest invited applicants to address specific sectors within Oakland and to highlight the legacy of past and contemporary Black artists in specific genres: music, visual arts, theater and performing arts, literature and poetry, or the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. During the weeks before submission deadlines, the African American Museum and Library at Oakland offered study guides and collections on local Black artists for inspiration and insight as people prepared their submissions.
OPL spokesperson and event organizer Tarshel Beards was unavailable for an interview before this article went to print, but said in a press release regarding a similar contest held in 2017 that the winning cards remain in circulation and are available for patrons signing up for new cards. Oakland’s rich history and the influence Black people have had across cultural and political landscapes—not simply in the Bay Area but worldwide—are reflected in the art received in 2017 and now.
Centering the work on the assigned themes, the result in 2024 is art often seen through the lens of family, social justice, and prominent artists and activists such as Jean Michel Basquiat and Angela Davis. The concept of “Oakland spirit,” finds expression in the majority of this year’s winning artists through independent pursuit of truth or a personal passion like music, or in grassroots organizations such as the Black Panthers and others who came together to build strong, supportive and necessary community connections.
Lucas Oda selected music as the focus for his “African American Musicians” artwork that creates a smile-shaped keyboard above which two musicians perform; musical notes and a guitar float aloft. A color scheme of green, yellow, red and black suggests, either intentionally or by happenstance, Namibian or South African flags, while the accompanying artist statement leaves no doubt of the artist’s pride and belief in valuing all people.
“I am a student at an Elementary School in Oakland,” Oda writes. “I created this art ‘African American musicians’ to celebrate African-American music. I like music too! I play piano and Thai dulcimer in my free time. I am interested in music and people. Because music is universal, it can bring people closer. My mom told me that African-American musicians also played in movements for equality and justice. No matter who you are … we are brother and sister, we should treat people with respect.”
Teen winner Carmen Lieu’s artwork, titled “Blooming Knowledge,” places book covers of favorite Black authors—Maya Angelou, Octavia E. Butler and Angie Thomas—amid bright pastel-tone blossoms and leaves.
“For this piece I wanted to express beauty and acknowledge these books,” Lieu writes. “Though each book has sensitive topics, its impact is important. It acknowledges what happens and [has] happened to African Americans in everyday life. I read these books in school. It makes me really happy that students in Oakland are still able to be taught from these books.”
She adds, “My English teacher taught me about book banning and how some schools ban books, especially books like these. I wanted to bring light and show the beauty of the books as seen with the bright, colorful foliage and flowers surrounding the book titles, in hopes to show how amazing it is that books like this exist to educate people on situations like these.”
Adult artist Ajuan Mance provides a bold, graphic lineup of women and pays tribute to a seminal Black writer, poet and civil rights activist. “The Transformation of Silence into Language” is created with ink and digital collage on paper.
“This drawing is a visual representation of one of Audre Lorde’s most famous quotes,” Mance states. “In Sister Outsider, she writes, ‘[T]he transformation of silence into language and actions is an act of self-revelation.’ Although this quote is focused on writing, it can easily apply to all of the expressive forms through which Oakland’s Black artists chronicle the people and places that shape our present, and the hopes and values that shape our Black futures.”
Mance continues, “The figures’ rightward-facing pose reflects the progress of Black movements for change. My choice to feature Black women is a nod to the centrality of women and femmes in both anti-racist organizing and Black literature around the globe.”
Information for people interested in obtaining one or more of the new cards is found on the website. Included is a guide as to which local library branches will have up to four of the designs. Only the Main Library and the Dimond branch will have all nine cards. The limited-edition cards became available Feb. 5 and will last until supplies run out.
Patrons can collect all nine designs, but only one card will have the barcode number for checking out materials and using digital resources at the library. A current library card can be “upgraded” to a limited-edition card.
Library patrons and community members who have an interest in learning more broadly about African American history can visit the Main Library’s AAMLO reference library. The collection is non-circulating and holds roughly 12,000 books by or about African Americans, along with online databases, newspapers, artifacts and close to 400 videos and DVDs viewable onsite.
Other visitors are invited to peruse AAMLO’s seed library and “check out” culturally relevant seeds. Part of a free urban seed project committed to supporting sharing and self-reliance, the seed libraries and gardening programs offered every third Saturday at the Lakeview branch revolve around food independence, acquiring practical gardening techniques, and nurturing the bonds formed among people in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods and regions.
To see the 2024 Card Design Winners, visit https://oaklandlibrary.org/artcontest/winners/