Oakland artist Peps 357 has worked with the Eastside Arts Alliance for ten years and has witnessed many changes in Oakland, including the rise of art education and programming for youth. Peps sees art less as a formal practice and more as a integral part of everyday expression, and a way to speak to your broader community through the universality of visuals. I spoke with Peps at the Fruitvale Día de los Muertos festival about his relationship to art. I also interviewed his niece, Allison Santiago, for the first blog post about Día de los Muertos and art in Oakland. The full interview transcript is reproduced below the video.
What has your day been like today and what is Día de los Muertos about for you?
Día de los Muertos is about remembrance of the ancestors and people who have made sacrifices for us, and also being thankful for all the things we’re able to gain this year. Not just physical but like experiences, and all the things that we’re thankful for in a year.
Did you grow up celebrating?
How does art play into the celebration of today for you?
Well I think art just culturally has always been a part of every culture’s daily lifestyles, but it wasn’t until more quote unquote modern times and colonization that art became this elite thing that’s like exclusive for only people that understand art. So this is about going back to the roots of things as opposed to like making it more artsy…And in a lot of places they don’t even have words for art because its so engrained into daily life and just is.
How do you experience art in Oakland? Do you do it with other people, do you do it by yourself?
Well I mean I mostly did it by myself because Oakland doesn’t have a lot of resources. So I know for our city art is a little more engrained into the arts and lives of people as opposed to affluent cities where its actually funded and they try to get people to do art.
So here a lot of people do it for the culture and for the love of it.
What inspired you to start making art in general?
I don’t remember. I just started doing it when I was a kid.
And now you’re passing it on to your family…
Yeah, that’s another thing. We’re doing youth workshops and apprenticeships, so that’s how we’re trying to spread it out and make sure the kids get the same type of upbringing. You know a lot of us who work at Eastside, coming from Oakland schools, we never had art classes or anything like that, so it was very self-driven. Nowadays schools have art programs, after school centers, centers, cultural centers, and things that weren’t around a couple years ago, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Do you think that the art you do or with the Eastside Arts Alliance…is an important vehicle to do things politically?
I think its necessary because arts more universal as opposed to more spoken or written language. When you do art, you make it more universal. You convey a whole message in a concept as opposed to just your own thoughts. The art that we do is very public, very community based and it reflects the issues and things that the communities are going through. So when they see those images, they don’t have to be educated about it, they understand it. Or they make some sort of understanding about what’s going on in that picture as opposed to, you know, a can of soup or something that has no real substance to it except to the person that painted it. And people can make interpretations but what we do is very public, it’s supposed to reach the most amounts of people we can.
—by Sophia Hussain, OMCA Community Storyteller