If you have walked through the first floor of the University Center, you may have noticed the eye-catching new murals on the curved wall near the undercaf. The murals are a part of a larger project created last year by Professor Sergio De La Torre’s Spring 2021 Artist as Citizen class for a construction site on Market Street.
The construction company Suffolk constructed a building on Market Street and used a nine-foot-tall plywood wall to keep passersby from entering the site. Suffolk approached De La Torre about creating a mural to decorate the wall, who in turn assigned the project to his class of 14 students from a variety of majors.
De La Torre said that the class taught online in Spring 2021 faced limitations in the creation of the mural. Some students in the class had no experience with art. However, De La Torre assured, “You don’t need to be an artist to understand how to do research.” The class split into four groups, each led by students who had some experience with the tools necessary to design art digitally. Each group created eight murals that altogether encompassed 120 years of history.
De La Torre says public art is always site-specific. When researching the history of Market street, the class realized that it was a place of protests, parades, processions, and marches. “Pride goes to Market street, Chinese New Year goes to Market street, when the Giants win, they go to Market street,” De La Torre said. “Each movement has a very particular aesthetic,” De La Torre continued, whether that be encompassing slogans or songs from specific social movements the groups chose to represent in their murals.
Rocio Flores, who took the Artist as Citizen class as a senior and graduated from the University with a psychology degree, worked on murals honoring the Asian American movement, Latinx culture, and highlighting the issue of climate change. “We wanted to honor and give light to the importance of tradition and key elements of Asian American culture to celebrate them and break against the hate crimes going on,” Flores said. “We also focused on Latino culture in the same light of celebrating its culture and bringing to life what makes Latin American culture in SF and its influence in the community.”
Malay Gibson, who graduated with a fine arts degree last semester, said, “We learned a lot from outside sources. We got to meet specific guests that really aided our process such as Assistant Curator Jovanna Venegas from SFMOMA, Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong of Twin Walls Mural Company in SF, and Monica Wilson and Marlo Sandler who connected us to Suffolk Construction. Hearing them speak about their own work was influential to our early stages of working as a team on the mural.”
The final project was large, including 32 murals, each nine by eight feet and printed on three pieces of paper. It cost $10,000 to print the murals and $4000 for them to be installed on-site. What we see in the undercaf are two of the murals from the original project, “Solidaridad – From the Civil Rights Movement to the Disability Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter” and “Native American Activists Occupied Alcatraz Island.” This is not the first time the UC has been used to display student art. Before the lounge area on UC 1 was built, the space was used as a student gallery. Before the pandemic, Lester Deanes, the assistant vice president of student engagement, approached the art and architecture department about using the curved wall next to the undercaf as an art wall. Rocio Flores, in response to the mural’s display on the wall, said, “I think USF does a great job at displaying student talent.”
De La Torre made clear the importance of displaying student art, saying that “when you make art, you want people to see it.” De La Torre believes one can learn when others view their art, because it might be interpreted in a way they never expected. Malaya Gibson said, “It’s been a while since I’ve been on campus due to COVID and having graduated but I would love it if there were even more displays of student work across the campus! There are really talented individuals at USF, and I think it would be great to show even more of the work being made by artists among the students. Art is meant to be seen and felt, so why not put more up?”
Flores commented on the experience of being involved with the project and seeing the completed murals on Market street. “It became a realization when I meditated on my journey as a Don just how immersed I had become to the point of wanting to let others who would pass by the mural see and experience the same feelings I had when describing SF and its history,” Flores said.