“This definitely feels resistant to me, painting these women, working with other women,” said painter Fernanda Parker Vizcaino on a break from working on “Women of the Resistance,” the newest addition to the collection of world-renowned murals that adorn the walls and backdoors of Balmy Alley, in the heart of the Mission’s Latino Cultural District.
Growing out of a theme that was originally conceived by artist Lucía Gonzalez-Ippolito and blossoming into images of 38 women activists whose lives span generations, the mural was also painted by a majority female crew, all of them committed to anti-oppression and to community art-making with a positive message.
“Lucía was the mastermind behind it,” explained Parker Vizcaino. The artists, Adriana Adams, Erika Gomez-Henao, Sonia Molina, Michelle Rios, and Yasmine Madriz met as students at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI); Chole Gonzalez-Coyle and Carla Wojczuk also contributed their work to the mural.
“We came up with three generations of women activists from around the world, women who aren’t often featured in history books,” said Parker Vizcaino of the collective design process.
Alongside radical sheroes like Yuri Kochiyama and Angela Davis, you’ll also notice the visage of the new resistance, women like Tarana Burke of New York who fights on behalf of women of color for gender equity, and is considered to be the mother of the #MeToo movement. There are also the faces of girls like Sophie Cruz, 11, an immigrant rights activist from Los Angeles, and Mari Copeny, 10, a Flint, Michigan resident and advocate for clean drinking water.
“I started with Ahed Tamimi who’s super-young and Palestinian and important to the movement,” said Gonzalez-Ippolito, who originally envisioned a mural devoted to women of the Middle East. But as she discussed the idea with her fellow artists, the mural grew more inclusive, spanning decades and nations, depicting not only young activists, but those of the past and present, potentially inspiring girls on the way up, and honoring the women who have persisted. There’s also a special nod to women of Bay Area, like Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matters, and Judy Brady, the mural’s central figure, pictured with a silver-haired bob.
Brady is known to 24th Street regulars for buzzing from business to business on her motorized wheelchair scooter and for her participation in neighborhood demonstrations. She was one of those unsung activists who was living in our midst until 2017 when she passed away.
Best known for her early work with the women’s movement, especially her influential essay “Why I Want a Wife,” published in 1970 in the very first issue of “Ms. Magazine,” Brady’s deep involvement with the movement for women’s healthcare and her direct action contributing to the Americans with Disabilities Act form the through-line to her work on the frontlines of the tech bus protests in the neighborhood and to her placement in the mural.
“Judy wanted something about gentrification and I wanted to do something about contemporary women activists and tie it into the history of the alley,” said Gonzalez-Ippolito, whose mother Nancy was, along with Brady, part of a collective of women who invested in the building for the purpose of creating community among women artists and activists. They had always hoped its walls would have a purpose beyond just housing. Uncovering this very kind of women’s untold history of resistance is just one of the larger benefits of a woman-made, global, yet locally-focused mural.
“There’s not enough women muralists, it’s still male-dominated,” said artist Anna Lisa Escobedo, who chairs the Calle 24 Arts and Cultural Assets Committee and works at the California Historical Society.
Escobedo is well-acquainted with what it’s like to paint in a mostly male field and noted the pioneering work that Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes and East Bay artist Edythe Boone have done in the Mission District; the contemporary muralists Miranda Bergman and Juana Alicia and their work enveloping the Women’s Building on 18th Street; as well as contributions made by Gonzalez-Ippolito on Balmy Alley, and the new generation of girls working throughout the Bay Area. And yet, there can always be more women-centered work.
“Maybe we’ll call ourselves Mujeres Muralistas X,” said Gonzalez-Ippolito, referring to the original collective of female muralists from the Mission in the ‘70s, who were determined to paint the world from a Latina/Chicana perspective and to offer an alternative to the male-dominated mural scene. While it would appear that an increasing number of women through the years have worked to sustain and to launch mural projects, according to Escobedo, “There’s still not enough room for us; we have to continue to demand the space to tell our stories.”
The story pictured in “Women of the Resistance” unfolds through a series of symbols foundational to colonialist, white supremacist society; the man-made forces of destruction hang like a shadow above the women’s heads. Depicted at the top edge of the mural are the weapons and the plastics industries that steal our safety at home and at school, and pollute our environment and our drinking water. Also pictured are militarized law enforcement and the government’s war machine that kills ceaselessly, and other havocs wrought by the 24/7 commercial news cycle, concentrated wealth, fossil fuel and hyper-gentrification. Aiding the devastation are the henchmen of a sick society, and the agents of death and family separation. And then there are the women, all 38 of them, using their gifts, holding up the world, drawing on their Divine Feminine superpowers, and calling for revolution, using whatever means necessary in their efforts to topple the patriarchy.
“We’ve been mostly using acrylic paint, doing brushwork with a little stenciling,” explained Parker Vizcaino. The women are painted in warm tones while the evil forces are rendered in shades more cool and gray. “Chloe [Gonzalez-Coyle] created stencils of the positive messages, based on Lucía’s original sketch of women cutting off their oppressors, the puppet masters of the patriarchy,” said Parker Vizcaino.
The artists have received assistance from the San Francisco Poster Syndicate (artists Michelle Williams, Joanna Ruckman, Sara Somano and Carlos Rodriguez), which was founded at SFAI by Professor Art Hazelwood when its adjunct faculty were organizing for wage and job security.
“Most of the members of the Poster Syndicate are not strictly painters,” explained screen printer Michelle Williams, but they are interested in the use of art as a form of resistance. “We’ve worked with WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Program, on homeless rights and we did work for climate change and Standing Rock/NoDAPL,” she said.
Other artists who assisted with “Women of the Resistance” include Christopher Stratton, co-founder of the Clarion Alley mural project, and Gonzalez-Ippolito’s father, Tirso Gonzalez Araiza, with whom she collaborated on another Balmy Alley piece, “The Mission Makeover.”
The mural is replacing a weather-damaged work by the aforementioned Oakland artist Edythe Boone, who is now 80 years old. “She never had requested to restore the old mural and the building owners requested new artists,” said Gonzalez-Ippolito. “Then her lawyer suggested installing the remaining mural door at a local middle school.”
One bright Saturday afternoon in September the crew painted while dub reggae boomed from nearby speakers. “Lucía usually deejays and has a really good playlist,” said Williams. “But reggae is my go-to, everyone likes it. It brings people together. Plus it’s summertime, and it’s also revolutionary music.”
As Parker Vizcaino moved toward the scaffold to get back to work painting, she said she hoped the faces of the 38 extraordinary women will inspire the next generation of activists and muralists on Balmy.
“They’re people who aren’t represented very often but need to be,” she said. “People often put women’s history under the bed, but we have to put it in their face, so they can’t look the other way.”
“Women of the Resistance” will be officially unveiled on Oct. 13 at the Balmy Alley Block Party in the Mission District, 2 p.m. – 8 p.m.
An artist Lucía Gonzalez-Ippolito works on the “Women of The Resistance” mural at the Balmy Alley in San Francisco’s Mission District on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (Video by Ekevara Kitpowsong/CurrentSF)
An artist Fernanda Parker Vizcaino works on the “Women of The Resistance” mural at the Balmy Alley in San Francisco’s Mission District on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. (Video by Ekevara Kitpowsong/CurrentSF)
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