"This City Is Not For Sale". Photo: CGuttery [Atlas Obscura User]. Location: Clarion Alley, San Francisco, CA.
Noktolonel stares at one of La Miguelito's pieces, reminiscing of the brainstorming they did to create it. La Miguelito had decided the first element of the piece must be the heart. "Let’s get inside the heart through taking the color apart," said Noktolonel. "Pick a color." "Yellow," replied La Miguelito. Then "red." And finally, "green." Green brought to mind sulfur, and sulfur brought to mind gunpowder. Noktolonel is brought back to the present as she remembers the gunshots that turned La Miguelito's piece into a memorial.
Here, La Miguelito's piece is more than paint on a concrete wall. The mural is an embodiment of La Miguelito's hopeful and ambitious spirit. La Miguelito's pieces perform as veins; they are the means by which La Miguelito, the heart, pumps blood to the myriad cells that compose and sustain the Mission. The pieces are La Miguelito's voice, and as La Miguelito puts it, the pieces are about "speaking for the Barrio." In the face of the Mission's gentrification, they scream for the acknowledgement of Latinx and African-American communities that are slowly being pushed out. They perform La Miguelito's America.
Margarita's performance of whiting-out her very own murals of La Virgen is loaded with meaning. On one hand, the white-out is symbolic of death: immigrant, working-class families are being displaced from the Mission. The voice expressing their America is being muffled. The America that they know is being bulldozed, and they are told that it is inevitable. On the other hand, Margarita's final white-out is symbolic of rebirth: instead of forcing her last mural of La Virgen to watch her commit suicide, Margarita whites-out the mural to create a blank canvas for the hopeful young creative she sees in Eklectic. As such, the performance of whiting-out does not simply have to be a force of destruction or a force of erasure; it can lay the foundation for reform. To liken it to a recent make-belief example, the performance of removing Confederate statues is the abolition of their glorification, not their history, to build the road to a more equitable America.
"The Life of Washington" is a controversial mural in George Washington High School, San Francisco, CA, that the school board voted to cover up. It depicts scenes of Washington's slave ownership and of Native American genocide at the hands of white explorers. Some groups claim that the mural is offensive and glorifies Washington while others claim that the mural provokes a conversation about the ugly parts of U.S. history. Photo: Joe Vazquez, "Controversial George Washington Mural At San Francisco School Gets Public Viewing After Vote To Cover Up" (CBS)
Protest arises from many forms. Marches. Speeches. Bus boycotts. Lunch counter sit-ins. However, murals can also perform as protest and speak as loudly as a breathing human being. They are concise and eloquent. A 200 sq. ft. wall can convey as much meaning and emotion as an hour-long speech. Across Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley, and other mural locations in the Mission, murals are protesting for their America to be acknowledged.
"Cultivating Resistance" is a piece presented by the San Francisco Poster Syndicate and Clarion Alley Mural Project. It takes grassroots activism to a literal level by depicting a sapling that must be shielded and watered by acts of activism. Photo: Christopher Statton (clarionalleymuralproject.org).
The mural "Ceasefire," painted by Juana Alicia, was the product of the artist's anger over U.S. actions in Honduras. Both "Ceasefire" and "Culture Contains the Seed of Resistance" cross U.S. borders, becoming performatives (as defined by Diana Taylor) for a hemispheric America. Location: Mission and 21st Streets. Photo: Mauricio Ramírez.
"Your racism is not patriotism." Location: Clarion Alley, San Francisco, CA. Photo: CGuttery [Atlas Obscura User].
To those crying, "we want our country back," the murals of the SF Mission reply that America is fluid and dynamic and that there is no "real" America.
Each piece performs a different America. Each piece occupies limited space on a wall and demands acknowledgement. Each piece has a unique voice. As generations pass, an old mural is whited out so that a new mural can present a different performance of America.