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Oakland Museum mural

Oakland Museum visitors create mural honoring Black Panther women

on February 4, 2023

An Oakland mural dedicated to women in the Black Panther Party came to life Friday night, as visitors to the Oakland Museum of California were invited to create their own artwork in a live mural. 

The project was put on by the West Oakland Mural Project, a mural and mini museum honoring women instrumental to the Black Panther movement. Visitors got to work painting, bringing the colorless canvas to life with vibrant reds, blues, yellows, and blacks. 

Oakland museum mural
A live mural project at the Oakland Museum of California (Kelsey Oliver)

The live mural, curated and envisioned by Jilchristina Vest, was a small sample of outlines taken from the original 2,000-square-foot mural painted on the exterior of Vest’s Oakland home. Once it dries, it will be on display at the museum.

Many of the mural’s images are based on the work of photographer Steven James, who took pictures at Panther rallies and other activities, said  Rachel Wolfe Goldsmith, founder of Wolfpack Arts and lead muralist on the original piece. “I’m kind of taking those photos and layering them, but depicting different elements,” she said.

The mural depicts women bonding and uniting in protest during a turbulent period in the U.S. On one side, a woman holds plates of food. On another, young people point their fists to the sky in protest. A sign reads, “We Are the People: All Power To The People.” 

Amid police brutality that has targeted Black Americans and traumatized Black communities, Vest got to work.

Oakland museum mural
Jilchristina Vest, curator and envisioner of the West Oakland Mural Project, speaks with visitors. (Kelsey Oliver)

“During the rebellions of 2020, everything that we were seeing, whether you were Black or not, was Black trauma, Black death, Black COVID, Black pain,” Vest said.

“This year all was created because I wanted to show up in some way during the rebellions, but I wanted to show up in a way that was beautiful and healing and something that was going to add to the community, instead of something that was going to express anger or frustration or death,” Vest added.

Children and adults took a thrill in filling in the mural outlines.

Tamar Semyak, who teaches second grade in Richmond, said she came to learn about the mural project because she’s been looking for meaningful things to do with her students for Black History Month.

For her friend Robin Young, the evening was a chance to try something new. “I just thought, this is going to be a really fun night to let go my creativity, spirit,” Young said. 

For Vest, the project is about honoring Black beauty in the face of darkness.

“It doesn’t negate the things that are oppressed, it doesn’t negate the trauma, but it gives me something else more beautiful to focus on,” Vest said.  “If I only focus on my oppression, I will never be free.”

Oakland museum mural
Visitors at the Oakland Museum of California get to work on a live mural project. (Kelsey Oliver)

1 Comment

  1. […] strong presence of Oakland artists also elevates the city’s art scene, which doesn’t always carry the same level of recognition as San […]

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