Artist shocked by arson on gay mural

Artist Manuel Paul of the Los Angeles-based Maricón Collective, the creator of Por Vida. (Photo by Khaled Sayed
Artist Manuel Paul of the Los Angeles-based Maricón Collective, the creator of Por Vida. (Photo by Khaled Sayed

The artist who created an LGBT mural in the Mission district that has

been vandalized multiple times said at a recent forum that he wasn’t

surprised the art was damaged, but he was shocked by an arson attempt

on the project.

Los Angeles-based artist Manuel Paul, a gay man who’s part of the

Maricon Collective, created the Por Vida (For Life) mural that was

installed at Bryant and 24th streets last month by Galeria de la Raza.

Por Vida depicts two lesbians looking at each other, a transgender man,

and two gay men embracing each other. The mural was defaced three

times in June, and on June 29 it was set on fire, leaving a third of the

mural irreparably damaged. The strong response to the mural on social

media and the vandalism have ignited conversations in the Mission

around issues of homophobia, displacement, appropriation, and trauma

within and outside the Chicano/Latino communities.

Galeria de la Raza hosted a community forum at City College of San

Francisco’s Mission campus Saturday, July 25. The meeting included

panel discussions and an examination of how art incites dialogue.

According to Paul, the digital mural installation was created to honor

San Francisco Pride Month, and inspired by the work of queer people of

color.

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“I wanted to do it for the Maricon Collective supporters,” Paul said, “not

just for the collective but for their audiences.”

Paul said that there were mixed reactions to the mural, and there was a

lot of positive feedback, which is what he likes to pay attention to.

“The negative, I feel like it was a little bit extreme,” he said. “Because it

was a mural that was going to be up there for a month, and I feel like

some people didn’t have patience with it. They wanted it to be erased.”

Even though Paul anticipated that the mural would be vandalized, given

the history of the murals that Galeria de la Raza hosted in the past, he

didn’t think someone would set it on fire.

“Other murals at Galeria de la Raza got tagged up,” Paul said, “but I

never thought of fire, or being torched.”

During the forum’s first session, some panelists spoke about their

experiences coming out as queer. Gay activist and artist Joey Terrell

remembers his mom calling him queer without knowing that he was. At

the age of 15, he had an argument with her and yelled, “Yes, I’m queer.”

His mom broke down and cried, and said that she wished he was a drug

dealer or a thug instead.

“But she came around and now she is my best friend,” Terrell said.

Another panelist, muralist Carlos (Kookie) Gonzales, talked about how

he used to be homophobic. He wouldn’t want to be seen with gay people. But now he is a supporter of LGBT people.

“Everyone has a gay person in their family,” Gonzales said.

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Luciano Sagustume said that he came out as a lesbian, but after 10 years he realized that he was a transgender man.

“Before moving to San Francisco I never met a transgender person,” he said. “When I come out as queer, as a lesbian, it didn’t

feel right to me till I realized that I’m a transgender man.”

He said that the mural represented him as a trans man, and he was sad to see the amount of negative attention it received.

“I never thought that it would get burned,” Sagustume said. “That is another level of hate.”

Muralist Nancy Pili, another panelist, urged Galeria de la Raza to include misguided young people who feel ignored and

dismissed.

“I think one of the biggest problems is that these young Latinos feel that their history has been written by others,” Pili said. “We

need to create workshops and help them show their work. We need to give them a space to tell their story.”

Ani Rivera, the gallery’s executive director and a queer Chicana who lives in the Mission, promised that Galeria de la Raza will

continue to do outreach to both supporters and opponents of the mural.

“The gallery’s neighbors are very concerned about their safety since Por Vida was lit on fire,” Rivera said.

The community forum was sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Chicana Latina Foundation, National Center for

Lesbian Rights, and Our Family Coalition.

Last week San Francisco police released video of the arson incident. The video, from a surveillance camera at Galeria de la Raza,

2857 24th Street, shows someone in a black hooded sweatshirt or jacket with white stripes on the shoulders, black pants, white

tennis shoes, and white gloves approaching Por Vida, pouring liquid on it, and lighting the fire, which burns for about a minute

and a half before the footage ends.

According to Officer Carlos Manfredi, a police spokesman, officers responded to the scene at 11:10 p.m. June 29, just after the

fire started.

The suspect is described as a 6-foot-tall man, weighing 190 pounds and wearing a black cloth over the lower half of his face,

according to police. He was last seen running south on Bryant toward 25th Street.

Anyone with information in the case may call the police department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to

847411 and type SFPD, then the message. People may also contact lead investigator Sergeant Pete Shields of the Special

Investigations Division at (415) 553-1133.

The case number for the June 29 incident is 150568699.

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