I was there...
by Patricia Rodriguez
The Mujeres Muralistas was a group of Chicana/Latina artists in the Mission District that pioneered large-scale, woman-painted outdoor murals. The work of the varying number of women in the group was part of the flourishing of public murals in the Mission District, throughout the Bay Area, in California, and even nationally in the 1970s. A glimpse at our motivations, at our training, at our relation to other muralists and politics of the time, and at the murals we painted reveals a rich history of the Mujeres Muralistas.
The original mural painted by Mujeres Muralistas on Balmy Alley.
Photo: Patricia Rodriguez
One big motivation for us was recognizing that there had been no successful women muralists in the Mexican mural movement. We wanted to show that women could also paint large outdoor murals.2 Another factor was the lack of support from the men painting murals in the Mission District who were also critical of the subjects we wanted to paint. We knew that because we were not harassed by police like the men were, and because we had not suffered by having fought in Vietnam, we had a different visual story to tell. We had the freedom to paint whatever we wanted, and we chose the beauty of women and their Mexican and Latino cultures. As Muralista Irene Perez put it, “We brought fine art to the streets and added the beauty of women in our culture.”
Our first effort was an experimental mural project on a garage door across the alley from the building I shared with Graciela Carrillo at 54 Balmy Alley in 1972. We asked the neighbor for permission and our experiment was to see if we could collaborate as muralists and draw large-scale designs. At this time there were no fancy mural paints, so we used outdoor house paint we got from neighbors. For the bright colors and to complete our palette we bartered paint from various artists. In the beginning, men teased us and harassed us, and so did women who poked fun saying, “Anyone can paint and do what you’re doing!” Some even started their own mural, also in Balmy Alley near 25th Street, to prove their point, but it was never finished. Ralph Maradiaga, co-director of the nearby Galería de La Raza, was our only constant source of support, and he documented the mural-painting process, sharing his slides with us. He was also the one who suggested our name. Obviously, it stuck. Although few people thought we could complete the project, we did, and we discovered we liked it and wanted to continue painting in collaboration with others.
Paco's Tacos mural at 24th and South Van Ness, originally painted to give Paco a competitive edge when McDonald's was opening a block away. The wall is no longer there, covered now by a new building.
Photo: Patricia Rodriguez
by Patricia Rodriguez, from her essay "Mujeres Muralistas," in the anthology "Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78" (City Lights Foundation: 2011), edited by Chris Carlsson.
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