Faces of wide-eyed Cuban kids stare out from this work, on a street with its share of drug-dealing, drunkenness, and transient living. Children as young as those depicted on Jessica Sabogal's artwork also pass by 498 Stevenson, as do white- and blue-collar workers. Sabogal painted Los Hijos of the Revolution with all these people in mind, but it's the children who attend the nearby Bessie Carmichael School, who struggle with their lives, that really inspired Sabogal. Los Hijos of the Revolution (The Children of the Revolution) came out of Sabogal's work at Bessie Carmichael, though she improvised her approach while completing the work earlier this month.
“The piece speaks more to the people directly in that community right in front of the mural,” Sabogal says. “We had everything from crazies to intellectuals to teachers — all the people you find in the area — and it clicked one moment when my boss said, 'If this mural doesn't speak to the direct community, then you're adding to the gentrification.'”
The biggest change Sabogal made was changing the quote that anchors the mural's center. Originally intended to be something explicitly education-related, it's now a variation of a line from James Baldwin's 1961 essay collection, Nobody Knows My Name, where Baldwin urges people to improve race relations: “The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”
Sabogal, who's 27, is a self-taught graffitist and street artist specializing in the drawing of strong women. A few years ago, Facebook commissioned Sabogal to create indoor murals featuring women at its offices in Silicon Valley, while Plume Books had her draw the cover for the 20th anniversary edition of Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Sabogal's mural series called “Women Are Perfect (If You Let Them)” exalts women's achievement and potential, and next to Los Hijos of the Revolution, Sabogal has another artwork called Perfection Is My Right that's related to that series. Los Hijos of the Revolution is based on multiple stencils and multiple layers of paint, which produces a dramatic effect — as if the Cuban kids are slightly out of focus and illuminated by both sun and shadow.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Sabogal now lives in Oakland, where most of her street art is located. Through a program at Galería de la Raza, where she's an artist in residence, Sabogal taught art to fifth-graders at Bessie Carmichael School. Her work stands out wherever it is, including at Facebook's headquarters, where she was the first female artist invited there.
“It was when Facebook was very young,” she says, “and there were only two artists doing work at the time, and their work was very male and, I hate to say it, very sexist. You could tell it was done by a man. They really needed a woman to paint a woman on a wall that wasn't done in a sexual way.” JC