A Community’s Visual Activism
by Melanie Rose
Since the 1930’s San Francisco has been no stranger to public art. It has become renowned for a strong mural tradition and currently, there are about 1,000 murals of all sizes scattered around the city (and counting). But it wasn’t until the 1960’s, when Latinos employed the Mexican mural tradition to create murals to kickoff the start of the Mission’s Chicano Mural Movement as part of the larger Civil Rights Movement. This marked the roots of the city’s community murals – walls dedicated to and reflecting the political struggles, hopes, values, and culture of the surrounding area – a visual kind of activism.
Today, in reaction to the rapidly changing landscape and demographics of the city, many of San Francisco’s public murals are no different. Here are five new powerful murals painted in 2015 that you must see:
1. La Flor de la Vida (Marina Perez-Wong & Elaine Chu of Twin Walls Mural Company)
This beautiful tribute is located at 25th Street along Frida’s Closet in the Mission. The mural is dedicated to the late Marsha Lee Pannone who taught at the School of the Arts and was known as an artist of many talents. Chu and Perez-Wong attended the school, and Pannone was both teacher and mentor. Other names appear on the banner in dedication to friends and community members who have passed away.
2. Los Hijos of the Revolution (Jessica Sabogal)
Located in the SoMa on Stevenson Street, this mural depicts the faces of Cuban children in a neighborhood primarily of working class people of color facing many social and economic issues like homelessness, gentrification, and substance abuse. Sabogal had the students in mind from nearby Bessie Carmichael where she taught art while painting the mural. The quote at the center attributes to a James Baldwin essay, calling for people to take an active role in shaping their community. SF born and bred, Sabogal was the first woman artist invited to make art for Facebook’s headquarters and is an artist in residence at Galeria de la Raza in the Mission.
3. No Clear-Cutting Our Community (Christopher Statton of the Clarion Alley Mural Project)
Bahay is Tagalog for “home”, as SoMa currently has the largest concentration of Filipinos in San Francisco and many would argue is the core of Filipino American culture in the city. This newly unveiled mural located in Clarion Alley comes at a precarious time when the community feels that the idea of home is being threatened by controversial development projects and the amount of displacement already being experienced in this neighborhood and throughout the city’s history. The Mission communities have faced similar struggles of gentrification and displacement due to speculation. This mural was created in solidarity with the South of Market Community Action Network, a neighborhood organization who organizes, supports, and informs the SoMa community.
4. Presente: A Tribute to the Mission Community Mural (Alvarado, Max Martilla, Precita Eyes)
Part of the Walls of Respect series by Precita Eyes Muralists, who describes themselves as “an inner city, community-based mural arts organization,” they have been integral to the continuation of the San Francisco mural tradition since the 1970’s working with various communities to craft murals expressing their own narratives. This mural, located at 24th and Mission, commemorates El Tecolote (the city’s own 45-year old bilingual Latino newspaper) depicting past staff and volunteers. Also appearing on the wall are other local heroes: artists and teachers, iconic local businesses, and dedications to Alex Nieto and Amilcar Lopez-Perez who were both shot by police in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
5. Everything Must Go? (Daniel Doherty)
Another Clarion Alley mural in the Mission, the artist for this piece is currently unknown. Adobe Books was once a staple local business and beloved community hangout on 16th and Valencia until it shuttered its doors in 2013 due to skyrocketing rent. Luckily, the community rallied together to raise funds and it later opened at its new location as a co-op bookstore, gallery space, and community center on 24th Street. Although the store signs in the mural describe a tumultuous era when so much of San Francisco is being turned for profit. It begs to ask, must the local small businesses and community go too?
Want to get into what it takes to create a new mural in the city? Follow Asian American Women Artists Association’s anniversary mural project Mural Muses in collaboration with artists Erin Yoshi and Cece Carpio slated for Summer 2016.