Meet the Healers from Reflections of Healing: Traci Bartlow


In ABOG Fellow Brett Cook’s Reflections of Healing project, nine prominent Oakland-based healers – Kathy Ahoy, Traci Bartlow, Melanie Cervantes, Esteban Cuaya-Muñoz, Lillian Galedo, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Tyler Norris, William Wong, and Oscar Wright – were selected with help from Eastside Arts Alliance, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the YMCA of the East Bay, the Oakland Museum of California and organizers from Oakland’s Life is Living festival to be honored in large-scale participatory portraits by Brett and community collaborators.

We asked Brett to introduce us to some of these community leaders, who either by practice or legacy demonstrate healing in their work, by sharing some of his process, beginning with the personal interviews he conducted with each of them. As a model for the final paintings, each participant was asked to provide an image of him or herself as a young person to symbolize the collective power of youth. The finished portraits, along with captions translated into languages local to Alameda County, chalkboards for community reflection, and free health and wellness services, first debuted at the Life is Living festival in DeFremery Park, Oakland, on October 11th. The portraits will also be featured in a special celebration hosted by Oakland Museum of California on Friday, October 24th, in conjunction with a yearlong public installation of the work at OMCA.

First up, a sneak peek of Brett’s collaboration with Bay Area dancer, choreographer, and educator, Traci Bartlow.

UPDATE, December 3, 2014: We recently had the chance to correspond with Traci over email about what it was like to participate in the project. Read our interview with her below.

A Blade of Grass: How did you meet Brett? Have you worked with him or other artists before?

Traci Bartlow: I’ve been seeing Brett’s work in the Bay Area for a number of years. I first met him in 2009 at an open house exhibit at fellow artist Keba Konte’s home. Before this I had not worked with him or any other artist/activist in the Reflections of Healing project.

ABOG: If you had to pick one moment that was the most meaningful to you, which would you choose?

TB: Having friends, family and students participate in outlining the mural. We were all interviewed and shared our ideas of healing and basically spent a wonderful day together making art.

ABOG: How do you think art and healing are related?

TB: Art and healing are related because art is one of the truest expressions of the heart. Whether you are the artist or the observer, you are able to open up and feel and express something beyond words. Art touches the heart in ways words cannot.

ABOG: What was it like to see people respond to your portrait and quotations at Life is Living?

TB: It was wonderful to see the community, old and young, think about and share their ideas and processes of healing. This is an important exchange in our collective growth, healing and evolution.

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The following quotations are excerpts from Brett’s initial interview with Traci, which took place at the beginning of Reflections of Healing.

“Everybody has it. Everybody has the healing power within him/herself. And that healing power is also infectious. It can help other people access the healing that is inside in them.”

Traci1 Traci Bartlow original drawing, ink on prepared polyester, 11" x 14"
Left: Traci Bartlow original photograph. Right: Traci Bartlow original drawing, ink on prepared polyester, 11″ x 14″
“I have to put up these force fields of love, of joy, of beauty, of creativity, those are my force fields. And that’s how I step out into the world.”

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Participatory drawing and Traci Bartlow being interviewed, DeFremery Park Social Hall, 2014

“People often get self-determination misinterpreted. My understanding of self-determination is in an interdependent way so that we are together as a whole making things happen, being self-determined.”

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In the Oakland Studio/Practice Center, August 2014

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Finished portrait with captions in English, Punjabi, Vietnamese, and Arabic, October 2014
“I put my energy towards the positivity. I put my energy towards the joy of life, the beauty of life.”

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“What are the steps you to take to heal yourself and, your environment?”

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Installation at Life is Living festival, October 11th, 2014

Traci Bartlow is a dancer, choreographer, photographer, dance historian, producer and director who has been teaching dance for more than 20 years, developing the curriculum for many youth programs throughout the Bay Area. She has also performed extensive research of black social dance and is a Frankie Manning Ambassador of Lindy Hop, as well as member of B.R.S. (Boogaloo, Robot, Strutting), an organization that honors Hip Hop dance innovations that have come out of the Bay Area. Currently Bartlow is a founding and core member of Eastside Arts Alliance and Eastside Cultural Center in Oakland where she developed the Oakland Hip Hop Dance Institute, a program that documents and preserves the history and culture of Hip Hop dance and creates opportunities for dancers and choreographers to study, research, create and perform urban dances. As the director and choreographer for StarChild Dance, Bartlow’s choreography has been presented at the Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, the Black Choreographers Festival, and The Sisyphus Syndrome-A Jazz Opera by Amiri Baraka. She has received commissions for her choreography from the Illadelph Legend Dance Festival in Philadelphia, and the Eastbay Community Foundation.

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