Estria Invitational Graffiti Battles 2011

On Saturday, October 8th I went to DeFremery Park in Oakland to attend the 5th annual Estria Graffiti Battles, not really knowing what the event was about but quickly figuring it out and having an excellent time. I arrived at the park in the afternoon with my cinematographer, Bryn, and together we tackled this very exciting event. The event was put on by the Estria Foundation (www.estria.org), a nonprofit organization begun by Estria Miyashiro that promotes social change for the better in all communities, and achieves this through various avenues. A famed graffiti artist himself, this was the fifth year the graffiti battles have been coordinated by Estria and his foundation. The underlying meaning for graffiti battles is to promote creativity and art, and release graffiti from the stigma it may have as a vandalistic, illegal activity.

20 finalists all came to compete in Oakland chosen from previous battles in Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York City. Given 5 hours to complete a mural based on a hidden word revealed to the artists at the beginning of the competition, the finalists were all competing to be crowned King or Queen of Graffiti.  You would think the graffiti battles would be enough of an event to cover solely on our visit, but I was quickly overwhelmed with how much was happening all around me. I checked into the press area and arranged my interviews with Estria and the competition judges, which were a little difficult since we were struggling with the microphones and lighting. However, the judges and Estria were really patient and amiable, and in the end it all worked out wonderfully.

Bryn and I then just went around the park exploring, filming shots and talking to various people. There was a rap battle going on towards one end of the park and I was super impressed by the MCs! They flowed so well and quickly and had some really good lines; I just couldn’t believe they were just coming up with the stuff on the spot and battling each other out. There was quite a large crowd gathered around them, which only added to the excitement and thrills. Following this, we headed towards another section of the park that had some cool obstacle course for kids to go through and eventually jump off of. Next to that were some picnic tables where a graffiti drawing competition was going on.

The large canvases for the spray-painting graffiti competition measured 8×10’ and were distributed throughout the park. Most of the art I saw was really impressive, and they were all so different and unique from one another. We spoke to one of the artist’s brothers (we didn’t bother the artists themselves, since they were on a time limit to finish their work) who told us his brother’s travelled all over the country to compete in graffiti competitions. He’s also apparently been doing it since he was really young. It just gave me an idea of how dedicated these artists are and about their lifestyles: travelling everywhere and living what they enjoy doing.

As I was drawing random attendees from the crowd to interview for our episode, we happened to approach a Bay Area rapper, Trackademics. Bryn was familiar with his work and totally freaked out when she knew it was him (she’s a big fan). After our interview with him about the event we got a photo with him (even though I didn’t know who he was, it was still pretty cool!). He also mentioned that Questlove (?uestlove) from The Roots was performing later on at the event, which completely surprised us and made us more excited for later.

The event also featured a small, flee-market with various vendors. It provided Bryn and me with some much needed refreshments after our long day. We finally went and joined the crowd around the main stage where Questlove was to perform and just chilled and enjoyed the show. When Questlove came onstage, everyone was really excited and pumped up. His set was nothing short of awesome, and featured various types of genres and styles which were really unique and fun. It was the perfect ending to a very enjoyable day.

– Jose Vera

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