For the past three decades, the corner of 24th and Bryant in San Francisco’s Mission district has hosted murals that explore issues that face the historically Latino neighborhood. Past works of art have addressed police brutality, gentrification, and the quality of local schools.
But it’s the latest mural, which depicts gay, lesbian, and transgender “cholos,” that has the gallery behind the mural fearing for the safety of the artist and his supporters.
The mural was officially unveiled on Saturday. By Tuesday morning it had been defaced with blue and red spray paint. Images of two Latina women gazing into each other’s eyes and a male couple were each defaced. A trans man with surgery scars at the center of the billboard was left untouched, though the words “Por Vida” (“For Life”), written beneath his image, were scrawled over.
“We’re used to getting both negative and positive feedback as part of our programming, but this time around we didn’t anticipate this response,” said Ani Rivera, director of Galeria de la Raza, a non-profit art gallery that features the work of Latino artists.
The murals are supposed to spark discussion, but Rivera said this one has led to online threats against the artist Manuel Paul, who belongs to a queer DJ and artist group known as the Maricón Collective, as well as supporters of the artist.
Rivera said she filed a police report on Tuesday and referred to the event as a hate crime. The artist did not respond to request for interviews by the time this story was published.
The mural followed an aesthetic seen in the lowrider community, a Mexican-American subculture rooted around custom car enthusiasts in East Los Angeles, and was part of an exhibit that challenged “long-held assumptions regarding the traditional exclusivity of heterosexuality in lowrider culture.”
One commenter on the gallery’s Instagram feed voiced disapproval of the mural, accusing the artist of appropriating low rider culture and inviting outsiders to come gentrify their neighborhood.
“Keep that bullshit in the Castro,” wrote one Instagram user, referring to the city’s historically gay neighborhood.
Others complained the mural was inaccurate because openly LGBT people were not accepted in local gangs and the lowrider scene in San Francisco.
“They’re trying to say that there are no LGBT people in the lowrider community, that they’ve never existed, but they have existed in the fringes and it’s because of that erasure we feel it’s important to claim all ourselves,” Rivera said.
“This is the first time we’ve had extremely homophobic responses and I think it’s part of the gentrification that’s happening in the community. Some people associate LGBT people with non-Latino communities,” Rivera said in a telephone interview.
Rivera also said she spent the entire day Tuesday fielding calls from supporters who welcomed the mural. She said many callers asked when the graffiti would be removed from the printed mural.
“We’re committed to this vision and we’re going to fix it as many times as we need to because it’s the voices that need to be heard and we’re not going to stop,” Rivera told Fusion.
The mural artist Manuel Paul contacted Fusion to say he's only aware of Maricon Collective followers receiving death threats. He said he's stayed away from social media and is not aware of any death threats against him. He provided the following statement published below.