The Black Panthers are sometimes remembered merely as revolutionaries with guns during the dramatic civil rights clashes of the 1960s and '70s, but the reality, of course, is much more complex. Emory Douglas was the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense during that time, and "Power to the People," an exhibit of his graphic works, reminds us that the BPP also held the nation's attention with the intense visual skill of members like him, who got their work done by acting as organizers, baby sitters, and lecturers as well as artists. The show presents original art from the Panthers' newspaper, but it's "not about nostalgia or sentimentality," explains curator Greg Morozumi in a recent phone interview. Rather, it reveals the contemporary relevance of the pieces. "Kids battling it out today don't understand the social forces that got them there," Morozumi says, pointing out that many of the same conditions that inspired the young Oaklanders to make art, breakfast, and revolution in the early 1960s still exist today.
Anyone unsure what he means would do well to attend the gallery's interview with Bobby Seale. One of the BPP's highest-profile members speaks with Kiilu Nyasha, herself a former Panther and still an advocate for racial justice. Seale remains one of the most respected activists in the United States, and he doesn't make many public appearances. His conversation with Nyasha, set among Douglas' artworks, should be an inspiring, if not revolutionary, event. Hear him at 7 p.m. at the Sargent Johnson Gallery, 762 Fulton (at Webster), S.F. Admission is free; call 922-2049 or visit www.aaacc.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Drew Wiedemann's work doesn't mince words. "Artists Are Sissies," reads one piece. "Galleries Are Pimps," says another. You can gawk at these slogans -- emblazoned across tight T-shirts on a busty blonde -- in the art exhibit "Venom." After an aborted launch last month (due to the temporary shutdown of the Tenderloin's Shooting Gallery), Wiedemann engineered a solo show at his own expense in an eccentric space in the Potrero District. The result, a set of snarky photographs, screen-prints, and sculptures that make potent points about the intersection of creativity and commerce, opens tonight at 7 (and runs through May 13) at Ajax Custom, 2440 Third St. (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 377-3592 or visit www.eyeshotproductions.com.
-- Michael Vavricek
Play air guitar to vintage video
It's one thing to read about the dazzling stage presence of underappreciated performers like Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd's original vocalist), but it's quite another to confirm the claims with your very own eyes. Rock journalist Richie Unterberger has a revealing collection of crumbling film clips, and tonight he's ready to share.
Music lovers may recognize some of the booty -- Arthur Brown performing "Fire" in a flaming helmet, Tim Buckley strumming away on an episode of The Monkees -- but every scene you'll see this evening, including footage of acts from Love to Wanda Jackson to the Avengers, is a true rock rarity. Check them out at "Unknown Legends of Rock and Roll -- Music and Social Change: The Haight Ashbury and Beyond," starting at 7 p.m. at the Park Branch Library, 1833 Page (at Cole), S.F. Admission is free; call 666-7155 or visit www.sfpl.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
The hand-painting on the wall
We've always thought the Mission District was San Francisco's most colorful neighborhood -- and not because of the dealers who pester us when we're high-tailing it to our favorite restaurants. Rather, it's because of the hundreds of vibrant murals that plaster the walls of the quarter, transforming it into an outdoor gallery. More than just art, these works offer commentary on social and political issues and foster cultural pride.
This Saturday, the Mural Arts Festival pays tribute to the artist-activists behind the images with a day of activities. While we love any excuse to celebrate (think live bands and food), there are also kids' mural-painting workshops, an onstage "paint-off" (in which artists compete for a prize wall), and a community "paint-in." Celebrate the city's original art scene starting at 1 p.m. at Precita Park, Precita between Folsom and Alabama, S.F. Admission is free; call 285-2287 or visit www.precitaeyes.org.
-- Jane Tunks
Valley of the Dolls
Most of artist Misaki Kawai's creations could reasonably be called dolls -- if dolls piloted jets made of old cereal boxes and sported pasted-on faces formed from photographs of '60s celebrities. Haphazardly dressed in scraps of thrift-store fabric or castoff bits of Kawai's old clothes, propped up in vehicles fashioned from discarded cardboard, tape, and cheap mass-manufactured trinkets, and cast in improbable scenarios involving, say, Ringo Starr steering an aircraft with C-3P0, these dolls are hardly welcome in Barbie's Dream House. "Kuru Kuru Jet" opens with a reception at 6 p.m. (and runs through June 5) at the Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 522-1623 or visit www.jackhanley.com.
-- Joyce Slaton