Lucia Ippolito’s Women of the Resistance Ran Out of Space for All Its Heroes

The large-scale mural at 50 Balmy Alley was unveiled last Saturday.

Lucia Ippolito in front of Women of the Resistance at 50 Balmy Alley. Photo by Jonathan Curiel

Angela Davis is there. The longtime civil rights activist who’s now in her 70s is in the back row, along with Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement. In the front row are younger women like Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. But the assemblage of women who stand tall in Lucia Ippolito’s new mural, Women of the Resistance, aren’t all household names. Some of the dozens of women are only known in small circles — an inclusiveness that speaks to a fundamental reality of all activist movements: They’re comprised of many, many people who don’t make covers of magazines but still make a big difference.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Why isn’t this person in?’ and ‘Why didn’t you include that person?’ And the reality is we just didn’t have enough space,” Ippolito told a crowd of people last Saturday, at the public unveiling of Women of the Resistance. “I would have loved to include every woman activist we could possibly think of. A lot of them who were more prominent who we wanted to include we actually decided not to, because we wanted to show someone people might have never heard of.”

An example of someone Ippolito left out because of little room: Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union. But Ippolito included the UFW’s Maria Moreno, the first female farm worker to be a union organizer. Also included are Latin American poet Claribel Alegría, who died at 93 earlier this year, and Judy Brady, famous for her satirical “I Want a Wife” essay in Ms. magazine’s first issue. (One of the owners of the Balmy Alley building that Ippolito used for her new mural, Brady died last year.) Grace Lee Boggs, whose books include The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century is there, as are Oakland political activist and mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, and 11-year-old Mari Copeny, who has advocated for better water conditions in Flint, Mich.

Women of the Resistance has two tiers: The lower, eye-level half is comprised of three rows of activists, with people under 20 years of age on the first row, women 20-to-30 in the middle, and “the veterans of activism” in the back. These three rows stand as if they’re at a major awards ceremony. Above them are scenes of activism, including protests against gentrification, protests against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and protests against Donald Trump’s policies — with strings symbolizing capitalism’s corridors and their hold on societal doings. Also in this higher stretch of scenes are two bare-breasted women celebrating and holding up a full moon — which Ippolito says is a statement about nature and women’s strength.

“I feel like the moon is a really good symbol of fertility and women,” said Ippolito, a Mission District native who graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and whose other murals include a nearby one in Balmy Alley. “The moon controls our flow and the water, and that’s our power.”

On the left- and right-hand sides of Women of the Resistance, Ippolito has listed all the women she’s depicted. But as Ippolito was completing the mural in the last several months, people walked by and immediately recognized some of the activists without needing the lists. Two of the recognized figures were Raquel Willis, an African-American transgender activist who lives in the Bay Area, and Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist who was killed seven months ago in Rio de Janeiro — likely by assassins who opposed her work to curb police brutality and corruption. 

“Her friend saw her [in the mural] and started crying,” Ippolito said. “That was really powerful.” 

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