In noting Nonchalance Collective’s “penchant for presenting Oakland grime with the sublime,” Express writer Aaron Shuman created an apt slogan for the city proper. The quintessential image of “sublime grime,” in Oakland might be a Hells Angel sporting his anchor tattoo or an ’80s-era Too $hort hawking personalized tapes to local crack czars. After all, it seems natural that grit begets art in a city famous for introducing the word “biatch” to the culture at large — as indicates the Nonchalance publication Oakslander Lakeside Gazette.
Still, that’s something to chew on, the next time you stop by the collective’s Oaklandish Gallery and Culture Lounge. Even if “sublime grime” doesn’t strike you as the appropriate descriptive term for those racks of Oaktown Booty thong underwear, you might fancy the museum-capsule of Oakland history: autographed Hells Angels posters; matchbooks from restaurants that don’t exist anymore; bus passes from the years before AC Transit started using ticker tape. Add to that the gallery’s shelves of local cult videos, free cups of coffee, and head-nod-ic beats thwumping on the iPod — if you’re feeling it, you could kill a lot of time there.
Moreover, the history of this place is as kooky and boondoggled as the gallery’s name suggests. Three years ago, Bobby Peru — who named himself after the pervert guy in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart — and his pal Freddi Mac were having breakfast together and yapping about how they wanted to spread cultural awareness in Oakland, not just in a here-and-now sense, but in a historical sense, too.
“We didn’t have access to billboards, but we had posters and wheat paste,” Bobby says. “That’s how we got the idea for our outdoor slide shows, which eventually became an outdoor pirate movie theater.” Ergo the City of Dreams slide show: 130 black-and-white images of local legends, stored on Bobby’s laptop and projected on architectural landmarks around town — such as the side of the Grand Lake theater, or a parking lot on Harrison Street. In time, the show got more elaborate. Bobby and Freddi hooked up with Refa 1 and Kemrexx, the nuclei of artist collective Bay Area Aerosol Heritage Society. They began showing the society’s documentary Legendary Eightees Graffiti as a double feature with City of Dreams. Their newly christened “Liberation Drive-In” was a bona fide hit. The guys stuck together and formed a full-fledged pirate arts crew called Nonchalance.
Oaklandish Gallery and Lounge, opened two months ago, marks the culmination of three years of fly-by-night art campaigns. The crew formerly operated out of trucks and garages, and used what Bobby calls “gangbang” or “drive-by” projection to screen its movies. But now they have other, fancier plans. Throughout February and March, Oaklandish will hold free Thursday-night screenings of cult favorite movies, to celebrate the finest and grimiest of what Bobby calls “Oakland’s patron saints and sinners.” The series kicks off with Rebels of Oakland: The Raiders, the A’s, the ’70s — an HBO sports documentary that “makes a connection between the identities of the teams and the identity of the city.” Through interviews with pop-culture figureheads such Tom Hanks, Reggie Jackson, and John Madden, along with several ex-Black Panthers, Rebels of Oakland situates the Raiders and the A’s in a weird historical lineage that ties back to the Panthers and the Hells Angels.
Granted, if the Raiders’ primal thug image is as integral to Oakland as a rifle-wielding Little Bobby Hutton, maybe “grime” and “sublime” aren’t strange bedfellows after all. The Oaklandish Screen’s movie series “Six-Week Celebration of Our Unsung City” runs February 12 through March 18, with showings every Thursday night at 8 p.m. Oaklandish is located at 411 2nd Street between Broadway and Franklin, Oakland. Info: 510-451-2677 or Oaklandish.org