The corner of 24th and Capp streets was always the gateway to the deep Mission, but now a newly constructed mural – its central figure Amilcar Perez-Lopez, who was killed on Folsom Street by SFPD in 2015 – officially serves to consecrate the corner as a permanent altar and sacred space in memory of Perez-Lopez, while honoring the lives of Latinx people who’ve been lost to police and state violence in recent years.
“Father Richard Smith with the Justice 4 Amilcar Coalition had a passionate idea,” said Carla Elana Wojczuk, who designed and directed the mural “in community and collaboration” with HOMEY, Justice 4 Amilcar Coalition, Lucía González Ippolito and was assisted by Flavia Elisa Mora. “Alto al Fuego en la Misión” is the latest and largest work to brighten the Calle 24 corridor with a serious message: Cease fire and honor the dead.
From the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl and symbolic animals like the hawk, to foods, water, the changing seasons and the cycle of life and death itself, the mural is resonant with cultural and reverent references.
“Sage in a shell on the side of the building, with smoke rising up brings you into the picture,” said Wojczuk, noting each deity, symbol of protection and healing along the way.
Wojczuk and González Ippolito worked as muralists on the project alongside Adrianna Adams, Anna Lisa Escobedo, Cristian Muñoz, and Pancho Pescador, with Mora providing painting and poetry and Sonia G. Molina the lettering. Together they turned the 24th Street side of the building into a visual altar, set as a “retablo,” an image much like an icon, where Perez-Lopez is surrounded by flowers and traditional offerings. He is joined by portraits (rendered by Wojczuk) of others who were recently shot and killed by SFPD: Alex Nieto (2014), Mario Woods (2015), Luis Góngorra Pat (2016) and Jesus Aldolfo Delgado, the most recent victim who was shot 99 times in 2018 while he hid in the trunk of a car. Also depicted are those who lost their lives in attempts to cross the border, people such as Roxana Hernandez, a transgender migrant from Honduras who died in ICE custody in 2018; Claudia Patricia Gómez González of Guatemala who was shot by the border patrol in 2018; and Óscar and Valeria Martinez, who drown earlier this year on the banks of the Rio Grande in Mexico.
Wojczuk unravelled the story of the piece as we stood on 24th Street with Escobedo on a sunny afternoon, the mural nearing completion.
“Lucia and I worked on the problem of the architecture,” said Wojczuk. The project was originally slated for a smaller wall but when it was decided the mural would live at its location, the wall had tripled in size and accommodations needed to be made.
“The wall is big but there isn’t a lot of space because of the windows. We came up with the idea of retablos,” said Wojczuk, crediting famed muralist Juana Alicia with the idea. Because the space is so prominent on the block, “It felt important to get more people involved,” she said. The artists also incorporated input received from youth at HOMEY, the neighborhood non-profit, which was the project’s main funder. HOMEY was “Responsible for helping organize and keep the project alive spiritually,” added Wojczuk.
The mural takes its title from Juana Alicia’s “Alto al Fuego/Cease Fire” (1986), which chronicles aggression waged on an innocent young man fleeing Central American violence. A reproduction of “Alto al Fuego/Cease Fire” is incorporated into the new mural: “Carla had an idea to recreate my stepmother’s mural on 21st and Mission,” explained González Ippolito of the “mural within the mural,” painted into Perez-Lopez’s t-shirt.
“Carla wanted to pay homage to it and because it’s called ‘Cease Fire,’ to show our kind of cease fire,” said González Ippolito. It was decided that SFPD badge numbers would appear on the guns to hold to account the officers who aimed at their black and brown victims.
“It’s really important that people understand Amilcar’s story. He was 21 years old, undocumented, living in the Mission, providing for his family in Guatemala,” explained González Ippolito. ”He was shot six times in the back because he was fighting to get his bike back. And they killed him. Witness testimony is different from the police report. This is our report,” she said of the artists’ collective vision.
Pointing to Perez-Lopez on the wall, Wojczuk continued, “There is water coming out of the pipes and a lightbulb behind him,” she said. “He came from Guatemala to work and send money home.” In his short time here, Perez-Lopez was able to earn enough to provide running water and electricity for his family, who are also depicted in the mural with a background landscape of Guatemala transitioning into a cityscape of San Francisco.
“That heart is a sacred heart with tools all around it,” said Wojczuk. “The retablo also honors the community for its labor and love.”
On a Sunday afternoon in November, a few hundred artists, activists, neighbors and friends gathered to pay respects to the victims and celebrate the artists who devoted months in hot, and alternately cold and wet weather, to complete the largest mural project in the neighborhood since Daniel Galvez’s “Carnaval.” Galvez was also on hand that day for the mural’s unveiling.
“The subject matter – the killing of Latinos in this neighborhood – is very potent,” observed Galvez. “When they honor a man that was killed and several others who are mentioned, they do justice to him and his memory. It also lends a reverence to the Mission District. It’s a beautiful way to honor a horrible thing that occurred.” he said. Galvez, a noted public muralist, previously elaborated on the new mural’s fine details: “Pancho Pescador is a fantastic painter, actually a fantastic muralist and spray can painter.”
“Lucia González Ippolito worked on my Carnaval restoration. Carla is also a senior muralist and does a lot of community work; It really shows in this piece,” he added, pointing out the votive candles and the floral offerings. “Everything about it is beautiful, the flowers all along the bottom, the roses, the lilies are very well done. They’re magnificent.”
Anna Lisa Escobedo was called in to tend to the floral work which needed amending when the originally projected images no longer fit the scale of the mural. “I thought it would be easy to paint in the lines, but no,” she said. “As it turned out, I repainted the roses, calla lilies and marigolds freehand. My tattoo mentor would be proud.”
The artists used a combination of spray can and brushed acrylic, coated with several layers of weather-protecting varnish to battle the elements, particularly on a sun-drenched, south-facing wall. Among the mural’s many stewards are its artists, HOMEY, Mission Housing Development Corporation, Father Richard (its driving force) and Justice4Amilcar, as well as its host, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District whose offices reside on the bottom floor of the building.
Calle 24’s president, Erick Arguello, noted, “These murals tell our history. It’s important to have a mural like this depicting police violence in the neighborhood to educate the public about the things that happen here. We’re fighting for space.” Arguello said that in addition to the mural, there will remain a permanent altar inside the building. “We want to honor our ancestors all year round and keep a public space for them.”
Father Richard has stayed in touch with Amilcar’s family and Justice4Amilcar persists in its efforts to indict SFPD for the murder of Perez-Lopez.
“The family needs to be granted a visa to come here and that hasn’t happened,” said González Ippolito. She and the artists have carried not only the physical burden of creation but the project has taken an emotional toll.
“Since most of us are Latino, It’s a heavy responsibility to carry the story. It makes us reflect on our own upbringing. It’s been mentally challenging,” she said of the focus on injustice and police violence.
“I knew Alex Nieto and I have friends who were friends with him,” she continued. “I knew people who knew Adolfo Delgado and I knew people who knew Mario Woods. To some degree, it’s touched most of us.”
The burden was palpable as González Ippolito and the other muralists raced to the finish line, though through their persistence, a remarkable mural was completed on time and with limited resources to great effect and positive reception.
“HOMEY is the smallest youth center in the Mission and they’re counting pennies to pay for this project,” González Ippolito said. “I believe they are arranging for some of the funds raised to go to Amilcar’s family,” she said, then returned to the wall to add her final touches to the mural.
Donations are still being received via GoFundMe, linked through HOMEY’s website.
The Danza Xitlalli group performs a blessing ceremony in front of the Justice 4 Amilcar mural on 24th and Capp streets at the new office of the Calle24 Latino Cultural District in the Mission District, San Francisco on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (Video by Ekevara Kitpowsong @TheAperturist)
Videos of Muralists work on the Justice 4 Amilcar mural: Carla Elana Wojczuk, Lucía González Ippolito, Flavia Elisa Mora, Cristian Muńoz, Pancho Pescador, Adrianna Adams, Anna Lisa Escobedo, and Sonia G Molina. (Videos by Ekevara Kitpowsong @TheAperturist)
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