Find other projects
This project was successfully funded on July 4, 2013


by Joan Osato


Download Video: Closed Format: MP4 Open Format: OGG / WebM

About Califas

Califas turns its eye towards California:  the state, the state of mind, the people, and the land.  Califas seeks to create rich ground to engage new audiences, and provides space for the residents of our home to “reimagine” collective identity.  As part of the project, California resident and photographer Joan Osato is documenting communities up and down the state, using portraiture, photography and videography as storytelling devices.

Osato’s photographs combine with a trilogy of original California plays written by award-winning writers, Richard Montoya and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Luis Alfaro.  Equally strong collaborators include theater company Campo Santo, director Jonathan Moscone, California Shakespeare Theater, and Intersection for the Arts.   

Califas will engage communities in the Bay Area and throughout California through a series of photography workshops and events along California's historic Highway 99, following the plays’ map.  The results will ultimately appear both as scenic and visual design as well as curated into corollary exhibitions and performances at Intersection for the Arts (San Francisco), East LA Rep (Los Angeles), and Teatro Campesino (San Juan Bautista) throughout the Fall of 2013.


In 2010 Sean San Jose, at the suggestion of Deborah Cullinan, approached Joan about the outline of a play, eventually called The River. Written by Richard Montoya and Sean San Jose (based on a process of research, interviews, and depictions of a cross sector of cultures, archetypes, and residents), The River dealt with the complicated past, present and future of border politics, water rights, immigration, and environmental damage wrought at the hands of dynamic power structures (INS, Water and Power Agencies, BLM, and Corporate Farming, for example), human aspirations, and failures.

The river (Rio Nuevo or New River) on which the play is based that runs from Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, through Calexico, California is considered to be one of the most polluted waterways in North America. The source of the pollution is the refuse and waste from manufacturing plants operating in Mexico; the Imperial Valley's chemical runoff from the area’s farm industry; and human waste from the ever-expanding population in Mexicali.  As a body of water that spans the US/Mexico border, it also serves as a pathway for both Northward and Southward immigration. Northward for immigrants who form the major workforce for the Imperial Valley’s huge agribusiness and industrial farming ventures, and Southward as a way back to home.

Photographs of these areas became the basis for the Visual Design of Richard Montoya's The River that premiered in San Francisco this spring, as well as the exhibit "Mediation on Timelessness...For Your Future Soul", curated by Marc Bamuthi Joseph at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Starting in May of 2010 through September 2013, spanning over 10 different trips by truck and motorcycle, covering over 12,000 miles, crisscrossing California from the US/Mexico border at Calexico, Joan documented not only the environs of the New River Region from Mexicali to its terminus in the Salton Sea, but the land, water, geology, archeological past, towns, and people that may forever change our perception of our home state. Joan is now focusing primarily on uninhabited, or abandoned locations in California, places rich with historical or geological stories, and interviewing those inhabitants left behind.

Taken together, the photographs and imagery of Califas reflect a deeply held, personal reverence of power and beauty, and an acquiescence and acknowledgement of the cycle of creation and destruction inherent in the natural world. Shifting between geological documentation and a collaged travelogue of the nomadic journey, the project is also an archaeological search for a mythological past that lies beneath the contemporary desolation found in the wide-open spaces of the American west. The topography and geography of the area are imagined and realized as a series of photographic pieces, juxtaposed against the immensity of the formations and forces depicted in the images. The portraiture seeks to make visible persons, places, history and lives "unseen" and firmly place them on the map.

What Your Support Means

Your contribution directly supports three critical aspects of Califas:

- Visits to communities along California's Historic Highway 99 in order to research, document and teach.  

- Direct Artist fees to process, edit, and finish photographic and cinematic pieces for exhibitions and display in live theater performances.

- Lastly, a contribution to Califas supports a website and live video components where the participants, new audiences and artists, can see, hear, respond to, and interact with the artworks produced in the project.

A Personal Note From The Artist

“As a collaborator and designer of community engagement projects that hold art and social justice at the center, my work endeavors to break open new modes of narrative, employing emerging aesthetics and techniques that push the possibilities of storytelling and theatre.  My aesthetic remains true to guiding principles of documenting the “underground” or “marginalized” persons and movements in modern society.  

“In my search for revealing imagery or projects, I hope to illustrate a dedicated compassion and intensity using photography, film and theater as a medium. I am so committed to the execution of this project. On behalf of myself and the participants, we thank you in advance for listening, watching and considering the beautiful possibilities of Califas!"

- Joannie

Match Funds are not currently available.

Previous donations matched by: