Disturbing The Peace: Ed Bereal
Summer 1965 The Watts Riots (insurrection) was a wakeup call to all America that the aspirations of, particularly, Black and Brown people were not being met. With succeeding uprisings in Detroit, Oakland, Chicago, and all across the country with the death of Dr. King, it was clear that people of color were now willing to burn the country down if their rights and needs were not recognized and addressed. As a result organizations of all kinds began to spring up all over the country; organizations both official/ governmental as well as organizations with spontaneous indigenous roots.
The focus of these organizations at least in theory, were to address the political, cultural, economic and educational needs of those folks who were apt to burn America down if something didn’t change.
Because any change among the ranks of people of color in the US was looked on with great suspicion, organizing always had the complete attention of local law enforcement, the FBI, and even later the CIA and the White House. Establishment response around the country took many forms in reaction to the many instances of violent urban insurrection.
Black, brown and Asian studies began to be encouraged in the universities. There was the Urban League, Headstart, Bootstraps and others being established in the ghettoes, La Raza, Azatlan and the Chicano movement sprouting up in the Barrios throughout the southwest. In Los Angeles, there was an Asian Group call V.C. ( which sometimes stood for Visual Communications, sometime for Viet Cong), who were very active during the Vietnam War.
There were activist groups, such as S.N.C.C.(the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the Freespeech movement in Berkeley, the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party. And of course, there were the paramilitaries, of one kind or another. M.O.V.E., who the authorities bombed in Philadelphia, The Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the US Organization, the Weather Underground, the Symbioses Liberation Front, the Deacons for Self Defense and more. This was the time that gave birth to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union. It was a time of extreme social and political upheaval and always surrounding, interacting with and provoking it all were the intelligence and infiltration forces, representing local police, FBI, and CIA interests.
These are important elements and issues to mention here because these were the stresses, pressures and circumstances that gave birth to me and numerous others like me. These were also the stresses and strains that nurtured, informed and guided the Art that we all were inspired to do.
The experience of getting caught inside the rioting of Watts... the destruction... being inside the exchanges of gun fire... the beatings and loss of life... the contradictions with being an artist, all of it finally led to my complete disillusionment, regarding the art world and my participation in it. At the time I was represented by the largest and most powerful gallery on the west coast, being paid to stay at home and make art. In early ‘67 I quit the Dwan gallery, disoriented and unable to continue that kind of work.
1967-68 This period represented a return to my roots and an attempt to reconnect with who I was, where I was and where I needed to go… I stopped making Art and started reading and writing. This lead to an involvement with the Watts writers workshop, a group founded by Hollywood screen writer Bud Schulberg.
The writing became an effort, a metaphor for an attempt to understand the interrelationships that make up the underlying structure of America, class, race, public opinion, corporate power, etc. The metaphor became a play which required an elaborate stage set for which I built a large model. The model is now a part of the National Collection at the Smithsonian Institute.
1968 Because of events and places like Watts, job opportunities began to open up all over the country for Blacks, Browns and Asians. As a result I accepted a position in the Art Department at the University of California Irvine. At the same time I accepted a second position in the Black Studies Department at the University of California at Riverside. Irvine lasted 25 years, the last two of which I spent in Black Studies. The campus at Riverside was so wracked with dissention and racial strife, that after two years I was not rehired.
1968-69 It was because of UC Riverside and the need to give dimension to a new consciousness and initiate a new discourse, that, with the help of several friends and students, the Bodacious Buggerrilla was born. Bodacious was a political guerilla theater group. It was the “Zorro” of the Los Angeles inner city, and the darling of people of color and the radical white left.
The Buggerrilla might appear anywhere: laundromats, church steps, bars, lodge halls or universities. Suddenly a stage set would be erected, brightly colored, surreal, archetypical, sometimes grotesque, characters would appear using humor, satire, farce, even ridicule. These apparitions would initiate dialogue with anyone they could find, regarding relevant issues of race, Vietnam, gender, political/economic power or police brutality. We were loud, bawdy and very raw. Ultimately we were Bodacious!!!
The politics and social realities of the time seemed to produce several groups like the Bodacious Buggerrilla in different cities around the country. In New York there was “the Street Players Union”. the “Soul and Latin Theater”, and the “ New LaFayette Theater” in Harlem. In California there was the famous “San Francisco Mime Troup” - Berkeley had the “East Bay Sharks”. “El Teatro Campesino” in Fresno came out of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. And in Los Angeles there was Bodacious, walking a fine political line between the often open warfare of the Black Panther Party (fortified with Mao and radical left wing politics) and the “US” Organization asserting a “Blacker than Thou” cultural determinism. (both of whom where heavily armed and easily provoked)
Bodacious and much of this period is captured in John Weisman’s book “Guerilla Theater- Scenarios for Revolution”, a Double Day Anchor Original.
Liner notes from John’s book:
A combination of drama, political consciousness, and community action- is a theatrical form that can be called guerrilla, radical, alternative, street, or people’s theater. “You can’t write it down”, says author John Weisman. “You gotta’ either do it or let the people who do it talk about it.”
Guerrilla theater does speak for itself in this dramatic collage of interviews, scripts, photographs, letters, and journal entries. In a play by El Teatro Campesino called Los Vendidos (“The Sellouts”), a woman from the governor’s office comes to Honest Sancho’s Used Mexican Lot to buy an acceptable Mexican- to be shown off as part of an “integrated” government…And the Bodacious Buggerrilla’s shows are about the classic American hustles- Uncle Sam’s dollar game, the church hustle, the pimp, the revolutionary bullshit, the farce of politics. Ed Bereal, the Buggerrilla’s founder and director, says “Give ‘em the knowledge that a hustle is a hustle, and then they have a choice. Accept it for what it is, or tell who’s ever doin’ it to fuck off, because you’re onto his whole game.” Paul Davis, technical director of Concept East in Detroit, describes it still another way: "We got a bunch of people that need some understanding, and we need to find out what Black theater is, and this is an emergency. It’s like a Black ambulance of the mind."
Where cultural segregation has closed the doors to establishment theater, politically conscious leaders have organized farm workers in the southwest, Chicanos in Fresno, Blacks in Detroit and Watts, and disenfranchised whites in New York and Boston. Today there are over 400 companies doing Guerrilla Theater in Amerika!
1975 Because of social/ political changes and repressive measures by politicians and law enforcement, the Bodacious Buggerrilla was forced off the streets and so transformed itself into Bodacious TV works. Until 1975-76 Bodacious had been funded by entities like the National Endowment of the Arts and local governmental funding agencies. In order to establish a 3 color camera studio with editing facilities, which we did, we had to completely change our internal structure, while maintaining our social/ political vision and our commitment to give our services away to those who needed them. With the advent of Bodacious TV Works we also had to generate an income in order to exist. With the commitment not to offend or change our politics, we had to do work and make money often inside "the system". Bodacious TV works began as the support system for various community groups and social programs for the city of Los Angeles.
We entered the school system, working in East L.A. at Roosevelt High School, which was in the heart of the largest Mexican speaking community in the world, outside of Mexico. Also at this time Bodacious began what was to become a very long collaboration with the Los Angeles Jazz Heritage Foundation. It was our job to document the oral history of important Jazz musicians such as Hampton Hawes, Billy Higgins, Harold Land, Dexter Gordon etc.
Beginning around 1977-78, this project continued until 1993, ending with a presentation by Miles Davis’ biographer, Quincy Troupe, at Western Washington University, where I presently teach.
In this period Bodacious TV Works was being asked by the government of Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana, to come into their rainforest and film their national treasure. The Suriname rainforests are a highly protected, secured region of the country where no one is allowed to enter, except with the permission of the government.
Because of the peculiarities of the slave trade, and the fact that slave ships repeatedly dock along the northwest coast of South Africa on their way North, and because the forest was so thick, a slave, if he/she could jump ship, could not be recaptured once in the forest….
Suriname is blessed with the fact that, at this very moment, in their rainforest, it is sixteenth century Africa. With little or no contact with the outside world, Suriname’s national treasure is the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are living there exactly the way they did in Africa 400 years ago.
I, together with several scholars including noted linguist, writer ( “They Came Before Columbus“) and anthropologist Ivan Van Sertima, had the opportunity to live among these people for an extended period of time.
During the mid 1980s Bodacious TV Works also began a relationship with Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) in order to do national and international photo journalistic projects, of prime interest to Japanese audiences. As a result I spent a considerable period of time in Siberia, on a collaborative scientific expedition by the then Soviet Union and the United States (NASA).
A year or so after establishing our relationship with NHK, Bodacious began working for/with PontiFex Media Center whose job it was to examine and document the social/political realities of the Middle East, North Africa and the larger Islamic World.
Between servicing the needs of NHK and PontiFex we were able to keep ourselves alive financially, as well as get first hand information and experience concerning the ebb and flow of geopolitical forces, world religion, culture, science, and a general feeling of what was happening on our planet at that time.
Photo journalism took us to Malaysia, to the “International Center for Islamic/ Middle Eastern Studies”. We documented “the underground railroad”, -a phenomenon that stretched from North Africa (Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco) across the Straights of Gibraltar through Spain, into France and into the bowels of Paris.
Much like Bracero phenomenon (both legal and illegal), between the US and Mexico, large numbers of people were moving north for a better job and a better life. In this case it was Arabs and Islam and was causing tremors to the underpinnings of French life, politics and culture.
1988-89During the later part of the 1980s/ early 90s, I had finally decided to return to making Art. Rather than doing theater, making movies, or photo journalism, which can also be seen as making art, I decided to try to stay home, stay in the studio, sculpt, and make marks. In spite of all the demands that Bodacious TV Works had been making on my life, the writing, production and maintenance, the preparations, organization, and travel, I had always maintained my teaching schedule at UC Irvine. At this time I was having internal rumblings, suggesting that teaching art was starting to increase the pressure to make art; there was the need to do what I do best.
After being away from mark making for 20 years, there was a very strong need to put that 20 years of social/political information and experiences into some kind of meaningful statement of what I had seen and who I had become, into the work I would be trying to do.
As a result of all the writing I had done trying to figure things out, after Russia, and Suriname, and after a startling interview with an important foreign political leader in a CIA Safe house in Georgia, after North Africa and France, a personae, a spectre began to emerge out of my mark making. More and more a “not-so-complimentary” portrait of Miss America began to emerge from my work; an America, as seen from the Middle East, South and Central America, America, as seen from Africa, Harlem and Watts.
Constructed from the stars and stripes of the flag, (Miss) America personified our national love affair for science and industry, garish materialism and a mechanized militaristic violence which appears seasoned by the all too pervasive, often perverted sexual images that define America for much of the rest of the world.
As a result of the development of this imagery in May of 1994, I was invited to exhibit my work at the “Quinta Bienal De La Habana” the 5th annual Biennial in Havana, Cuba. This provided an opportunity for me to visit Cuba, take in cameras and conduct interviews, both official as well as unofficial meetings with some of the underground dissident groups and artists. The work, “Gargoyles: (Miss) America: Just alittle sumthin' for the kids” went on to be exhibited in Germany at the Ludwig Forum Museum and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
For the following three consecutive summers, beginning in 1990, I spent my time inside an IRA prison in Portlaoise, Ireland. I was teaching the prisoners film and video production. It was also an opportunity to learn about them, their organization, history, their experiences and views on war, independence, oppression, etc.
1998-99 My last foreign assignment was, by far, my most difficult. As a member of a small cadre, consisting of camera and sound personnel, an interviewer and a translator, together with armed body guards, it was our assignment to go into the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and document the realities of a genocidal war, From rape, torture, and mass murders, we documented the hatred that was unleashed with the breakup of the Soviet Union and thus the breakup of Yugoslavia. I have seen hatred all over the world, but nothing compares to Kosovo. The sights, the sounds, and the stories were truly frightening.
1993 Resigning from the University of California at Irvine, and accepting a position at Western Washington University, was an opportunity to take my life in a new direction, particularly in regards to my need to make art.
2002 As a result of my research into holographic imaging and projection through a unique computer/ laser interface, I was able to attract both the funding and the personnel to establish a small laboratory here in Bellingham, Washington. It is our hope to produce a new technology with regards to three-dimensional, 360-viewable life-sized imagery. Though this technology has profound implications in many fields of science, medicine and industry, my interests are mainly in its effects in the area of the Arts.