Bay Area murals call for social justice

Callie Fausey

Throughout the Bay Area, including the streets around USF’s campus, you can see history painted on walls. USF students who have walked down Masonic Avenue have likely seen the “Educate to Liberate: Lessons in Community mural about two blocks away from main campus, located between Hayes and Grove streets. These public art pieces are everywhere and often reflect cultural traditions and stories. 

“There’s a difference between painting on a wall and creating a mural,” artist Malik Seneferu said during the “Murals: A Call For Social Justice” talk with Black muralists, hosted by Art of the African Diaspora April 17. “When creating a mural, you’re turning a space into a landmark.” 

“When creating a mural, you’re turning a space into a landmark.” 

Seneferu was one of the five Bay Area muralists who spoke at the event. His work includes an incredible 12-story piece on 350 Ellis St. in San Francisco titled “Baobab Rising,” in collaboration with Precita Eyes, a community-based mural arts organization. “Baobab Rising” was created to honor the extraordinary history, culture, and character of people of color who have lived in the Tenderloin. The central focus of the mural’s diverse imagery is a baobab tree with streams of light radiating from behind it and a Black Power fist rising up the trunk, meant to represent the strength, love, and care of the community, according to Precita Eyes. 

“I worked with the community to get this done with other artists,” Seneferu said. “Precita Eyes asked me to lead the project. Since it’s an African mural, I had to make sure that it was clear that Black thought was put into the piece.”

Oakland-based artist Olubori Babaoye, who has been creating murals since he was in elementary school, said at the event that all of his murals relate to social justice. Babaoye’s recent work, “BART Chronicles,” depicts the Black experience on Bay Area Rapid Transit, commonly known as BART.

“The real magic happens when you’re able to leave a long-lasting impression on people and add beauty to your environment,” Babaoye said.

Following Babaoye, artists Derrick Bell and Zoe Boston spoke about the projects they worked on to bring attention to the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans by police. 

“We were all impacted by the killing of George Floyd,” Bell said. “People are tired of all the injustice that’s happening and there’s nothing being done about it.” 

Boston shared a piece titled “God’s People Will Rise,” which depicts a Black woman wearing a face mask with the titular message displayed across it. Boston said she was inspired by the “emotionally overwhelming” events of last year to create the piece of “a Black woman coming from a place of power,” which she turned into a mural on 17th and Broadway streets in Oakland. 

Bell and Boston’s works exhibit the themes of social justice and community that are symbolized in many of the murals lining the Bay Area’s streets. Sergio De La Torre, a fine arts professor at USF and muralist himself, spoke with the Foghorn to give insight on the role that murals play in encouraging community, participation, and collaboration.

“In the 60s, when murals became what they are now, it was about affirmation and belonging,” De La Torre said. “They’re about places that were left behind and people that shaped our history. They do tell you a story, and most of the time, the story is about social justice.” 

De La Torre is currently working with USF students to create a 254 foot mural on Market Street which will highlight the street’s extensive history, including images of parades, protests, and the earthquake and fire that devastated the entire downtown area in 1906. 

“You’re making a mark in the city,” De La Torre said. “You see the stories in those murals. That I live. That I’m here.” 

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