I went into San Francisco the other day to get some books at Borderlands — the preeminent science fiction and fantasy bookstore in the Bay Area. The shop is located in the Mission, an old neighborhood in the heart of the city that displays all its contradictions.
Walk down Mission Street, and you’ll find discount stores and more tacquerias than you can count. Walk down Valencia and you’ll see trendy restaurants and boutiques, along with some bars that have been there forever and the police station.
Along one of the alleys that run between the two streets, you will find an ever-changing mosaic of murals. Other murals can be found on nearby side streets. Many of them are political.
And since many of the political ones decry the problems caused by the influx of money into the city, I thought this one emphasizing how residents feel about their city was a good place to start.
This next one illustrates a key political issue today: income inequality. The quote at the top is a shortened version of something said by Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis:
We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
This alley isn’t far from the 16th Street and Mission BART stop, where many homeless people hang out. Today I saw one man sitting on the ground, surrounded by pigeons. I think he was feeding them, sharing the little he had with the birds.
Not all the murals are political. Some of them are almost spiritual. Others are mocking.
The next one is painted on what I think is an entrance to a house. It has a house number on it, at any rate. I’m not sure the saints portrayed here are recognized by any formal religion, but I suspect they are real human beings whom the artist thinks are worthy of honor.
It has the shape of a totem pole, but the creatures depicted make me think more of a descent into Hell. I assume that’s Death in the green.
And I’m not sure what’s in that barrel the monkey is holding at the top. Oil, maybe? Or water in this land so subject to drought?
There are a lot of murals in the Mission. I believe there are even city tours that focus on them. Some have been there for many years.
But the ones in the alley between Valencia and Mission change on a regular basis to comment on ongoing matters. Each time you visit you’ll find something new in the mix.
Public art is common throughout the Bay Area. We have some fine murals in Oakland, too. Some have official sanction, but others are guerilla art.
I suspect the artists behind these in the Mission didn’t start out asking permission, but I don’t think anyone would dare paint these out today. Every time I walk through the alley, I see lots of other folks there, all taking pictures just like I was. The murals are part of the neighborhood. San Francisco would be much poorer without them.