The Mural that Brought a Community Together

When Galería de la Raza began its Digital Mural project in 2007, it encouraged artists to take on strong political messages. The project was equally advocating for the use of digital tools in public artworks and the expression of important messages that would reference both hyperlocal and global issues.

Currently on display is a mural by Manuel Paul of the Los Angeles-based Maricón Collective, a queer Chicano and Latino artist and DJ collective. The mural depicts three scenes woven together: A male couple looking down and out of the frame and a female couple gazing into each other’s eyes frame the middle figure, a shirtless man looking into the distance with a furrowed brow. Bright flowers with thick thorns surround him and wrap around his chest near a scroll that reads “Por Vida,” or “For Life.” All the figures seem to be surrounded by chains and thorns, as if a sudden movement could result in intense pain. The thorns near the middle figure’s chest look almost like scars.

[jump] After its completion, the mural was spray-painted over, several times. It’s a common occurrence for public art to be defaced in this way, but the action is more loaded when the mural contains such polarizing content. 

Timed to coincide with gay pride festivities, the mural created a space for discussion about what it means to be Hispanic or Chicano and homosexual. Hispanic and Chicano communities can be especially resistant against homosexuality; the word maricón is often used in a derogatory way to refer to gay men.

Not soon after the recent gay marriage ruling, the mural was burned. The action was a stark reminder that even while some efforts are being made to improve gay rights, homophobia is far from gone. 

On a recent Friday night, art appreciators gathered for the opening of Xandra Ibarra’s “Ecdysis: The Molting of a Cucarachica.” Many of them lingered outside, taking in the mural and the blackened spot over the figures of the two men.

The defacement of the work brought together the community surrounding the gallery as well as art lovers throughout the city. In July, a group gathered for a rally in front of the burned mural and shared poetry and words of consolation and support.

Just recently, Galería de La Raza also held a community forum at the City College San Francisco Mission Campus. A video shows residents talking about the importance of the piece in creating visibility for Latino/a queer bodies. In it, a viewer talks about the how surprised he felt about seeing someone like himself depicted in public art.

Support for the mural and queer community continues in a number of ways, including a recent series of art shows, live music, and more as part of MAPP, the Mission Arts Performance Project. Revolving around the theme of “Celebrating Queer Culture in El Barrio,” the events took place at a number of venues in the Mission.

“Por Vida” serves as a reminder of the role an artist can play when it comes to LGBTQ activism, not only in San Francisco but in any major artistic city. That role comes with risks but it can ultimately strengthen a community.

Galería de La Raza is accepting donations here.

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