Lead artist Nicole Gervacio as she explance the painting

Oakland artists create a mural project to honor women affected by violence

on March 23, 2015

Oakland residents gathered in Park Community Garden this weekend to commemorate the victims and survivors of violence against women. The event, which included the unveiling of several portraits, was organized by the anti-violence group Her Resilience and Mamacita’s Cafe.

“Her Resilience is a testament to what can be done when women come together,” said Hazel Streete, the group’s director. She said the goal of the grassroots organization is to support women in the process of healing and dealing with trauma. A big issue with violence against women is the silence and denial of the problem, she said.

According to a press release for the event, the mural project was inspired by the death of Kimberly Robertson, whose body was discovered last year near the community garden on Park Boulevard, after she was sexually assaulted and beaten.

In the park this weekend, the group revealed portraits in five frames, featuring women of different skin tones, all looking at the woman in the middle, who is facing the viewer. The women on the right and the left show compassion and sympathy towards the women in the middle, who doesn’t look sad or troubled. The mural is mainly dark blue and bright yellow, except for white swallows flying in different locations throughout the painting. “The swallow represents love, care and affection towards family and friends, showing the loyalty of the person always returning to them,” said artist Nicole Gervacio. She added, “The bird also represents freedom and hope.”

The paintings were the work of Gervacio and 12 other artists from Oakland, who collaborated with community members to honor the memories of victims and survivors of violence. Gervacio used photographs of female victims and survivors, including participants’ family members and friends, and worked with community members to translate their ideas into art.

In her painting, Gervacio said she is trying to focus on change, and represent women in a honorable way that they feel confortable with. Tears dripped from her eyes as she recalled how much working on this project meant to her, saying she had learned a lot. “It’s amazing how much people can hold inside,” she said.

According to Gervacio, they used outdoor house paint to paint the portraits, and “some artists used collage elements, and some used spray paint and airbrushes.” The portraits were placed in the middle of the park to collectively make one bigger piece of art. There was also another set of paintings on of the community garden’s fence painted on big pieces of fabric hung on the wall.

After they are done being displayed at the park, the portraits can be moved to different public spaces, Gervacio said.

The event started with a blessing dance performed by a central Mexican traditional group and led by a woman who had conch shell in her hand, which she blew into to make a sound just like a horn. She wore a feathered headdress and chachayotes—a set of hard shells tied to the ankles—which made a sound as she moved.

Then the group divided into two discussion circles: the first made of people who identify as men and the second of people who identify as women. In the discussion circles, people talked about their experiences, and every circle was led by someone who had experienced violence. “A lot of people are trained to be silent about this,” said Gervacio. “Some people may not even have the ability to talk about their traumas.”

But the program hopes to create awareness that violence happens and that people can do something about it, finding organizations that can help them, and talking to local government officials who can make change through policy-making.

The mural project unveiling was well received by Oaklanders like Eric, a visitor who only gave his first name, who said he hopes to see a big impact of the project on streets of Oakland. Being here, he said, “You became to be aware of your maleness in a way that you haven’t before.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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