Postcards from the Bay: Balmy Alley’s Artistic Activism

Located between 24th and 25th street, you can find one of the many hidden gems of the Mission –– Balmy Alley. San Francisco’s Mission district is a unique neighborhood filled with deep cultural history, and of course, is also considered to be the mecca of murals. This alley in particular is the most concentrated collection of murals that the Mission has to offer.

The earliest murals date as early as 1972, when a group of Chicana artists known as Las Mujeres Muralistas painted their first mural together. However, it wasn’t until about a decade after, in the mid 80’s, when this alley really transformed. In 1984, Ray Patlan rounded up a group of artists and gave them this city block to use as a canvas to express their anger over the human rights and political abuse that came with the United States’ involvement with Central American affairs. Since then, Balmy Alley has been adorned with powerful and moving pieces that have told stories of the struggles the community has faced, as well as socio-political change, with themes such as gentrification, greed, abuse of power, revolution, religion, civil rights, and –– most prominently –– the celebration of Latino heritage. As I slowly meandered my way through the brick path, I paid attention to each painting, and tried to seriously figure out the message of each mural, which are all distinctly different from one another. That being said, here are some of my favorite murals from my trip to this San Franciscan monument.

→ Naya Bihana: A mural demonstrating Nepalese resistance and the struggle of a marginalized people during the peak of the Nepalese Civil War. naya bihana → Mission Makeover: Honestly this is one of my favorite pieces in this alley, because it incorporates juxtaposition of the past and present state of the Mission to highlight the effects of gentrification on a community. IMG_3291 → No One Should Obey an Unjust Law: I immediately recognized the subject of this mural, Monseñor Óscar Romero, a major icon in Salvadoran culture –– being a well known Salvadoran priest, who often spoke about social inequities and human rights. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1980; but his messages still continue to influence the lives of many today. → Las Milagrosas: A tribute to women artists from the 20th century including Tina Modotti, Frida Kahlo, Kathe Schmidt Kollwitz, and Elizabeth Catlett Mora. → Culture Contains the Seed of Resistance: Another one of my favorite murals, due to its use of juxtaposition as well. The mural is trying to represent the different realities of Central American life during the 1980’s, a time of revolution. On the right, citizens are portraying their love and respect that Central Americans had for one another and on the left, chaos and violence are displayed, which are harsh truths that comes with war time. culture contains the seed of resistance Overall, this site is a thought-provoking way to catch a glimpse of the social issues that matter to those who live here. Sometimes, art can be more powerful than the spoken word and Balmy Alley is seriously proof of it. Do yourself a favor and check this alley out, thoroughly.

Words and pictures by Andrea Hernandez

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