This Saturday, Feb. 25, Oakland artist Rashad Pridgen will bring the rich African tradition of masked dance and masquerade procession to the streets of Bayview. In partnership with SOMArts, the Black Lives Masquerade will pay tribute to the lives of the African American community that have been lost as a result of police brutality and gun violence.
The Black Lives Masquerade is the latest iteration of Pridgen’s longer-standing project, Global Street Dance Project and Masquerade (GDSM), which is described as “interdisciplinary dance performance-ceremony, live-art procession, creative direct action, and community engagement practice.”
“The African continent has a broad, extensive and sacred tradition of full body masquerade and dance of the mask,” Pridgen says.
A Bay Area resident for the past 17 years, Pridgen’s background spans the genres of West African dance, hip-hop, street dance, and club dance forms including house and vogue.
In an artist statement, Pridgen explains that “the GSDM honors the roots of this multi-dimensional practice coming from the African Continent and its Diaspora. With a futurist perspective, my practice investigates urgent current events, the utilization of modern materials to create conceptual garment designs and the transformation of non-traditional public space to create performative narrative.”
Through a grant from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Pridgen began a residency at SOMArts last month that will run through the end of the year. During his residency, Pridgen will develop another public masquerade procession through the Central Market neighborhood in April, and present a final show at SOMArts on May 6.
While he only received the grant this year, Pridgen explained that the concept for GDSM was first developed through a masquerade performance he did at SOMArts’ Night Light Multimedia Garden Party in 2015. Since then, he’s built out the details of the project and Saturday’s event will be the first of what’s come to bear nearly two years ago.
The performance begins at Zaccho Dance Theatre (1770 Yosemite Ave.) at 3 p.m. on Saturday and travels through the neighborhood, arriving at the Bayview Opera House on Third Street at 4:30 p.m. Pridgen and six dancers will lead procession, which will also include folks from the Bayview community, as well members of the Hare Krishna Temple in Berkeley. A reception at the Opera House follows the performance, with free food provided by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness and music by DJ Psoul.
For each public performance associated with GDSM, Pridgen designs a specific masquerade suit. For the Black Lives Masquerade, he has created a full body fabric suit featuring images of various people who have died at the hands of police brutality and gun violence.
“The Masquerade suits are inspired by the African Disapora which embellish and covers the body in extravagant, vibrant color to reflect the embodiment of animal spirits, ancestors and earth elements,” Pridgen says, adding that for the April masquerade in Mid-Market, he says a new suit will serve as a tribute to Prince.
“I continue to acknowledge my connection to the African diaspora worldwide while acknowledging our struggles and beauty through art and expression,” he says. “As a Black American, I about elevating the Black experience and creating work that is inspired by Pan-African tradition and can be translated in contemporary or urban environments.
He continued, explaining that given the current political climate, performances like the Black Lives Masquerade are more important than ever.
“Art is a revolutionary act,” said Pridgen. “With The current headlines of arts being cut, presenting live and public art is imperative and a avenue to expressing the needs and voice of the people. Also live art and performance is a human need which transforms and translates the current times with or without funding.”
The Black Lives Masquerade, Saturday, Feb. 25, 3-5 p.m., at Zaccho Dance Theatre, 1777 Yosemite Ave. Free; somarts.org/gsdmbayview