Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) has been a grass roots project from beginning to future. It was organized by hundreds of community members who’ve committed their time and energy to the organization over the past 21 years. In a city that is rapidly changing to cater to the one-percent at every level, CAMP is one of the last remaining truly punk venues in San Francisco. The project is in constant dialogue, continuously involved in a struggle of expression that plays out in a vibrant conversation down its length. Some of this dialogue includes protests against domestic violence, war and aggression, or is in support of transgender activism.
In 2012 a mural by artist Tanya Wischerath honoring trans women activists was just unveiled on Clarion Alley. The mural features images of youth activist Mia Tu Mutch, recently deceased community advocate Alexis Rivera, Janetta Louise-Johnson, and Tamara Ching.
Wischerath inscribed this dedication on the wall beside the mural:
The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. Although San Francisco continues to lead in the struggle for equal rights for the LGBTQI community, trans women are often left behind and in the fight for visibility. This mural is a dedication to the work of just a few trans activists out of many who have tirelessly committed themselves to paving the way for a more just, accepting, and righteous San Francisco.
“Painting this was humbling in all respects, and the work these women are doing and have been doing for a long time is bigger than one mural,” Wischerath told the Guardian in an email interview. The mural focuses on activists who are close to the Bay Area community for a more immediate feel, and was inspired by the fierce queens in Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary of ball culture in New York.
I related this project back primarily to Jessi Gan’s piece, Still at the Back of the Bus. Sylvia Rivera, a combatant at the 1969 Stonewall Inn Riots, played a major role in sparking the contemporary lesbian and gay rights movement. Gan writes, “some formulations of queer and transgender politics assert the signal importance of visibility” (Gan 297). The stonewall riots are representative of trans people “opting to break the silence” in a way that challenges gender normativity. It is celebrated as queer and trans people “coming out” in a quest for “freedom.” The narrative of the Stonewall Riots and of Sylvia Rivera’s experiences as a trans person of color encourages questions relating to visibility and how that visibility is influenced by power and privilege. Tanya Wischerath’s mural is similar to the Stonewall riots in the sense that it gives a positive form of visibility to the transgender activists it celebrates. However, Rivera’s experiences show that queer/trans visibility “is not a simple binary; multiple kinds of visibilities, differentially situated in relation to power, intersect and overlap peoples lives” (Gan 297). Rivera’s story also shows that relations to power as well as location, influence queer/trans visibility. Institutions of power project gendered and racialized meanings onto people, which means that not all spaces will be accepting of various forms of identity.
SF Mural Arts Website
I really like that you connected the murals to topics we have discussed in class. I enjoy walking through the alley myself and like having a bit more knowledge about the art I see.
I find that one characteristic of most street art is that it often has a short-lived ability to communicate its stories; its direct exposure makes it fragile and fleeting. I find that this is similar to the struggle many groups and organizations face in organizing activist movements that fight issues of racism, classism, and sexism and other issues discussed in class. While it is relatively easier to inspire people and to bring them together to make a change, it is much harder to sustain a movement over a long period of time. This is what we saw happening with the “Occupy” movement. While groups and organization are threatened and resisted by law enforcements and capitalism, similarly the murals are exposed to the general public. Murals are often covered with graffiti and other street art. However, while they last, they can tell powerful stories of struggle and projections for a better future. Artists have and will hopefully continue to come back and paint again. The same way we see those who are in the field of community organizing to empower transgender and queer individuals will continue to work towards their goals of creating equal opportunity for all members of society.
Another key characteristic that I find important to mention when talking about these murals is how they are situated in such a manner that those on “the bottom” are able to access them. In class we have engaged several times with the idea that resources should be made available first to those at the bottom, which would allow all people to benefit, rather than allowing access to only certain privileged groups. Resources such as welfare, health insurance and education, are support systems that many individuals, such as poor, homeless, and disabled people are not able to access. These murals are a form of art that are out in the open, on flat pavement (without stairs), and free to see for all. This is a way that engages with the approach of focusing on empowering those at the bottom to have access to resources (such as people in wheel chairs or poor people) that allows everyone else to profit as well. The murals are a great example of how such an approach can be very successful.