For years Suzanne L’Heureux, the owner of Interface Gallery in Temescal, would see the students of Oakland International High School (OIHS) walking to and from their busses and school. But despite OIHS’s central location, L’Heureux didn’t feel that the students were particularly well integrated into the surrounding community.
“They’re here every day during the week during the school year — for quite a lot of their lives," she said. "And yet many of them — most of them — don’t actually live in the neighborhood. So I was interested in using art as a way of connecting and making their presence known and inviting their voices into our community in a more public way.”
L’Heureux’s desire to celebrate the diverse community at OIHS led to her commissioning artist Cristina Victor to produce a work with OIHS students and teachers. Drawing on her practice of working with identity and flags, Victor created "My Story Is My Flag."
Left photos: courtesy of Cristina Victor
Right photo: courtesy of Interface Gallery
Working with OIHS co-teachers Tygue Luecke and Madenh Ali Mohsen, Victor led the students through vexillology, which is the study of history, symbolism and the usage of flags. The students worked in small groups to create designs representative of their cultural and personal identities, which Victor then sewed for display. The students also created personal flags to keep for themselves.
Afghan student Maryim S., who was raised in Pakistan, explained the significance of her flag:
“I made a flag that has a peace shape. The bottom one represents my country, Afghanistan’s three colors: green, black and red," she began. "And the bottom one is white and green, which is Pakistan’s flag. And in the middle, the black border represents the conflict between these two countries. And the white star represents myself — that I will, hopefully, bring changes between those two countries.”
Victor said she was especially excited to work with the OIHS students because her family had also been immigrants:
“I know the story of how hard it can be to integrate into a new country," she said. "And my work always talks about identity. Or it asks people to question their notions about identity and stereotypes. So it was really special to be able to work with this group of students.”