In 1998, 2.5 million people around the world died from AIDS, and 5.8 million people — including 500,000 under the age of 15 — became newly infected with the HIV virus. That was also the year Susan Cervantes created her mural, Hope for the World Cure, on the outer wall of the Bagdad Cafe, in the heart of the Castro, where the AIDS crisis had hit particularly hard.
Although the number of global annual deaths and infections has fallen, there is still no cure or vaccine for AIDS. Cervantes' artwork is a tribute to those who've died, and to those with the disease who are living with it. “It still applies,” Cervantes says of her mural.
About 20 of the artists who helped Cervantes design and plan Hope for the World Cure had the disease, and for some, contributing to its creation was a challenge.
“There were two or three tiers of scaffolding,” Cervantes remembers, “and some of them were not physically capable of getting all the way up to reach their parts, and some of them were so weak that they had to have their oxygen with them while they were painting. We invited a lot of people from the community to come and paint it, and there were about 85 people that day. We got it completed in almost one day.”
Cervantes is the founder and director of Precita Eyes Muralists, a longtime arts organization in the Mission District. Even with her reputation, and the cause of her art and the community behind it, “it was really, really hard for us to find a wall that would allow our message to be put up. After talking to different owners, this was the one owner who responded and allowed us to put whatever we wanted to reflect the theme of AIDS.”
While the Bagdad Cafe is now gone — it's currently another eatery called Ovok — the mural remains in place, with its bright colors, provocative messages (“How many more?”), and its mix of faces, ribbons, hearts, and AIDs symbols.
“It's a good thing to be there — for people to know what really happened and how people felt,” Cervantes says. “There aren't too many murals around with that theme left in the Castro.”