Images and impressions from one San Franciscan after walking hundreds of miles past hundreds of murals around the city’s Mission district in 2020.
By M.R. Rangaswami
Like most people, my life went from ‘nonstop’ to ‘full stop’ in March 2020. After a few weeks of Zoom calls, I began to take walking more seriously—it was the only socially distanced activity I could do!
I don’t know how far I went over the past year, but I was pretty committed to five miles a day—at one point, I hit 129 days straight.
In a city that’s only seven miles by seven miles, the challenge became finding new routes. I first did all the ‘scenic’ trails—the Presidio, Crissy Field, Land’s End, Marina Green … Then I met a friend for a walk in the Mission. I was hooked.
I never aimed to see a certain mural or artist. I just picked a corner in the Mission or Potrero and began to walk. There’d be spots where I’d go a few blocks without much to see, but not many.
The format of the traditional mural speaks to the viewer very clearly. The message isn’t subtle. You find yourself staring at an intense depiction of some aspect of social justice, gender equality, political action, or race relations.
Other murals have joyful or tranquil themes that celebrate life and the community, showing kids playing, faces, local heroes, folklore, fantasy, Latin America, or just colorful designs.
The PG&E Substation wall on 19th and Harrison streets is surrounded by a wall with scenes from Carnivale. I’ve never been, but the artist seems to have captured the spirit of the people, the music, the dancing. It sticks with you.
The diversity and vibrancy of the art grabbed me. There are some very stark depictions of life and death. After a while, you really begin to contemplate life differently. And you really feel the pride of the neighborhood.
My walks were one upside of the shutdown. I discovered more about my city in the past year than in the prior 20 years of living here. Maybe you need to be on foot to see the raw beauty of the city of San Francisco.
How to discover murals in The Mission
If you’re a first-timer, start with a wander through Balmy Alley or book a tour with the experts at Precita Eyes to get oriented. If you’re wanting to wander and discover, begin at any corner in the heart of the Mission, a neighborhood loosely bordered by Cesar Chavez, South Van Ness, 14th, and 26th streets. Reward yourself with a post-expedition agua fresca, paleta, cerveza, margarita, or Mission-style burrito – or keep moving through The Mission for more discoveries.
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