Current
Exhibition

Public Art Initiative

CONVERGING FLORA
CRISTINE BLANCO AND YÉTUNDÉ OLAGBAJU

The first installation of the Mills Public Art Initiative, Converging Flora is the shared creative work of 2020 MFA graduates Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju. The mural serves as a commemoration for Black lives lost and invites reflection on the ways in which national conversations about racial justice find roots in the Oakland landscape.

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative
Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative

Converging Flora

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju

Digital print on vinyl, 2020

“We were thinking about how gentrification has changed the cultural landscape of Oakland,” explains Blanco. “And that’s also in conversation, I think, with all of the social justice organizing that is happening. We talked about how we are all on stolen land, native Ohlone land, and we wanted to pull all of this together into a visual language.” The visual language Blanco and Olagbaju created is composed of the interplay of indigenous and invasive plant life mixed with a color story taken directly from local neighborhoods. It offers a naturalist metaphor for viewers to consider the dynamics of native and non-native populations, historic residents and newcomers, gentrification, and land use.

Making art accessible and inspiring reflection on our relationship with the land was key for Olgabaju. “Being able to highlight for the folks who experience the artwork how beautiful and how precious the land that they are existing on is, feels very part and parcel to public art processes. And whether that is through social engagement with the art, or by viewing a piece on its own, it’s about really allowing people to have an appreciation of place.”

Detail from Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative
Detail from Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative

Detail from Converging Flora

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju

Digital print on vinyl, 2020

Mills President Beth Hillman conceived of the Public Art Initiative after being inspired by the work of student activists who constructed a Black Lives Matter call to action on campus in early summer 2020. Hillman convened a team led by Professors Catherine Wagner and Ajuan Mance, along with Mills College Art Museum Director, Stephanie Hanor, to create a public art piece to express Mills’ ongoing commitment to social justice, gender and racial equity, and a belief in the value of black and brown lives.

“There are so many ways to convey an activist message,” says Mance. “I think this is, in some ways, a way of really seeing the area. The words connect us to the larger BLM movement. The references to the native plants and invasive plants make it about the Maxwell Park, Millsmont, and Seminary neighborhoods. Yes, this is in alignment with this national movement, but it’s also about making it our own.”

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative
Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju, Converging Flora, 2020, Digital print on vinyl, Mills Public Art Initiative

Converging Flora

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju

Digital print on vinyl, 2020

ARTISTS’ STATEMENT

As artists and recent graduates of Mills College, we began this collaborative piece by examining the ways we have processed the current global pandemic and civil rights movement. As a way to cope, we have been spending precious time outside, finding refuge and comfort in the colors and flora of our neighborhoods (Fruitvale and Laurel). In the same breath, we have also reflected on the location of Mills, its neighboring communities, and the flora that makes them. Specifically, we have considered how the campus is a nexus for many converging backgrounds and perspectives. For many, it is also a place that holds tension: barriers between the campus and surrounding neighborhoods, gender inequalities, grappling with police brutality, and so much more.

It is our belief that the relationship between indigenous and invasive plant species can mirror this tension, within Mills, the history of Oakland, and what we experience in our everyday lives.

Converging Flora presents portraits of that tension as it is: layered, detailed, but in an inextricable relationship. You will find no faces in this piece, but it is our hope that through color, composition, scale, and line that you will bear witness to that conflict.

View of Converging Flora with Mills students’ Black Lives Matter sign in the background
View of Converging Flora with Mills students’ Black Lives Matter sign in the background

View of Converging Flora With Mills Students’ Black Lives Matter Sign

Cristine Blanco and Yétundé Olagbaju

Digital print on vinyl, 2020

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Cristine Blanco is an artist based in Oakland, CA. Through sculpture, video, and installation, she creates a sensory vernacular that calls attention to the odd and uncomfortable. Through repetition, reenactment and reconstruction, Blanco processes and makes sense of a constantly evolving world. As an artist working in this context, she considers her role in documenting personal and global changes. As the foundations of our lives collectively shift, she seeks to understand where she can create moments of reflection and possibilities. Blanco is the curator and co-founder of In the Meantime (2020) at the Far House Gallery in Pescadero, CA. She holds an MFA from Mills College and is a recipient of the San Francisco Foundation’s Murphy & Cadogan Award.

Yétundé Olagbaju is an artist and maker, currently residing in Oakland, CA. They utilize video, sculpture, action, gesture, and performance as through-lines for inquiries regarding Black labor, legacy and processes of healing. They are rooted in the need to understand history, the people that made it, the myths surrounding them and how their own body is implicated in history’s timeline. They have shown work and projects with Oakland Museum of California, New Image Gallery, Pt. 2 Gallery, Southern Exposure, Guerrero Gallery, SOMArts Cultural Center, The New School, and Art Basel. They have collaborated with institutions such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Facebook, Museum of the African Diaspora, CounterPulse and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. They hold an MFA from Mills College and are the recipient of the inaugural Nancy Cook Fellowship, the Murphy Cadogan Awards, the Jay Defeo Award, and the Headlands Center for the Arts Graduate Fellowship.

*MCAM’s back gallery is currently accessible by stairs only. A hardcopy of the exhibition catalogue will be available upon request and a digital version will be accessible through our website. We apologize for this barrier; this will be the final exhibition we hold in this space.