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Juana Alicia

Remembering the Mission: A Reflection

September 20, 2007
Remembering the Mission

Juana Alicia in front of Las Lechugueras Mural, photo by Tim Drescher

Sitting in a café in downtown Mérida, remembering the Mission, I long for it. Here in the land of jaguars, hipiles and outrageously expensive cell phone costs, the globalization of Latinoamerica that we have fought in our struggles of the last several decades rears its ugly head in unavoidable contrasts and contradictions. I am living here on a Fulbright grant, a cultural emissary from 24th Street and York, representing the Chicana/o mural movement and a social history that is unknown to most in these parts. The sleepy tropical air is heavy with scent of limonaria flowers, and the suffering of the jornaleros waiting for work on Cesar Chavez Blvd. is distant rumor here, where the Panista, the right wing party, politics of repression work with the Catholic Church to perpetuate the myth that “aquí no pasa nada”.

But we who haunt the streets and hiring halls of el norte know better. And so do the Mayan people of the pueblos, who struggle to maintain their fast-disappearing language, culture and property, as international real estate and maquiladoras threaten to gobble up what has been chipped away at for years. The howl of a hurricane blows through the Mayan pueblos, sending the male population north to seek its fortune and leave the social structure like a dust bowl. North American dolares come home to lose strength as pesos, to pay for casas de bloque, replacing palm roofs with cement beams and stones, buying wide screen T.V.’s and indoor plumbing. Children grow up barely knowing their fathers, but a material prosperity supplants the pre-NAFTA familia. Scenes for a new mural?

Since I first arrived in the Mission from Salinas in the 1970’s, I have felt at home. Having grown up in center-city Motown, I teethed on Aretha Franklin and Last Poet records and learned to draw while cutting class to hang out at the Rivera murals at the Detroit Art Institute. As a young recruit to the United Farm Worker Movement, I made posters to boycott grapes and A&P, and got pulled into field organizing when I met Cesar Chavez on one of his many national tours. A train trip across Canada and hitchhike down the coast took me to Salinas, where I came of age in the lettuce fields and the strikes of 1973 and 1976.

I made my permanent move to San Francisco in the early 1980’s, after teaching and making murals with migrant students in Salinas and Watsonville for several years. My first San Francisco mural was Las Lechugueras (The Women Lettuce Workers) an autobiographical and piece about the lettuce machines, pesticides and la migra (the INS). Each of the subsequent twenty or thirty murals that have poured out of me since then have been a mix of personal story, community history and testimony to the moment in which they were created. I am indebted to the people and cultural institutions of the Mission that have given me the space to develop a voice to narrate the scenes I have witnessed, and that I have imagined, both as an individual and as a member of various collectives.

As I sit here in Mérida, where all cultural institutions with any funding or success are run by the government, and artists are subject to the political whims of the current sexenio (six year term), suddenly the non-profits and grass-roots institutions that have suckled several generations of artists, appear utopian. La Galería de la Raza and Studio 24, the Mission Cultural Center, Artists TV Access, the ghost of La Raza Graphics, and many others, although fraught with their contradictions, seem like models for many communities.  The rapid gentrification of the Mission threatens to wipe out the vibrant culture that still oozes from all of its overcrowded apartments and thumps beats from open windows and passing rides.

I feel that I was born as an artist on 24th Street, selling my work at the 24th Street Fair, showing my work at the Galería de la Raza, painting there as performance at René Yañez’s invitations, experiencing the street side courtship that would lead to marriage and family with Emmanuel C. Montoya. While I painted the Lechugueras mural and Emmanuel painted the Mini Park in 1983, we began an artistic relationship that would create prints and paintings and home and community and familia. Although the marriage ended in 2001, we had a long and fulfilling run as a collaboration that derived much of its juice from the Mission. In turn, we loved it back.

Swaying to the beats of low-rides, boom boxes, bars and street festivals, I’ve walked through the neighborhood for decades, feeling like it’s a my home, an epicenter. Every time I emerge from the guts of the 24th Street BART Station, with its tamale vendors, sidewalk musicians, drunks, junkies, bible thumpers, yuppies on their way to Noe Valley or their new Mission condos, and political organizers, I feel reborn, like I have arrived. It’s the same way I feel in the Zócalo in Mexcio City, where 500 years of history are on decade-by-decade display. I am mesmerized and absorbed, and could draw there for days at a time.

And my relationship with the Mission continues, like a never-ending love affair. Of the thirty-four murals I have painted to date, the greatest concentration of my work is in the Mission District. Some have been destroyed, others replaced, others restored, but I consider the Mission to be the holy ground on which I have been able to live and thrive as a painter and as an activist. Some of these works are individual efforts and many are collective. They include:  Las Lechugueras (1983); Para las Rosas (1985); Te Oimos Guatemala (1985); A Letter to the Future (1986) ; Balance of Power (1985); Alto al Fuego(1987); New World Tree(1988);  Silent Language of the Soul; four student murals at Cesar Chavez Elementary School; Si Se Puede; MaestraPeace(1995 and 2000); Una Ley Injusta(Homenage a Oscar Romero, 1992) and La Llorona’s Sacred Waters (2004).

The Silent Language of the Soul/El Lenguage Mudo del Alma, Juana Alicia and  Susan K.Cervantes. ©1990.
Photo: Tim Drescher

We were evicted from our apartment on Hampshire Street in the mid 1980’s, and continued to camp out in the Lower Haight until rents drove us across the Bay in the mid 1990’s. I still insist that I’m in economic exile from the Mission, dreaming of moving back like an immigrant in a foreign land, always longing to return home. The neighborhood is not the same as when I painted the Mime Troupe Mural, For the Roses/Para las Rosas, in 1985. Working half time in a flag factory, I shared my sweat shop position with my homeboy Herbert Siguenza, visual artist, actor and dramaturg of Culture Clash. That same year, we both painted murals on Balmy Alley as part of the eclectic PLACA Collective.

“Para las Rosas/For the Rosas”, Juana Alicia ©1985,
photo by Michael Bry.

Balmy Alley, the site of the PLACA Murals, was also the birthplace of Chicano murals in the Mission during the 1970’s, when Ray Patlán and the Mujeres Muralistas first began to claim the walls of garages and fences in the thin artery between 24th and 25th Streets. The artistic revival that was the PLACA “collective” birthed a series of thirty murals by more than forty artists. WildMy own mural, Te Oimos Guatemala was the first of two I would paint on the same spot. Te Oimos Guatemala was inspired by the movie, “When the Mountains Tremble”; in particular the scene of mourning in a small village after the massacre of most of its male population. A blood-chilling howl emanates from the women of the town, seen kneeling and crying implacably by the bodies of their sons, brothers, companions. That scene provoked the image of retablo   style mural: a Guatemalan woman in traditional clothing, kneeling and crying over the body of her beloved deceased, with the roof-tops of the Mission in the background, and a ribbon floating above them with the words, Te Oimos Guatemala /We Hear You Guatemala.

Balmy Alley, the diverse streetscape that critiqued U.S. aggression in Central America was filmed in a video, and sent to the then-Minister of Culture of Nicaragua, poet Ernesto Cardenal. I was part of that rowdy and wildly differing collective of painters, all opposed to U.S. intervention, and the revolutionary government of Nicaragua requested that we create similar murals in solidarity in that gorgeous and hopeful land. The following year, four members  of the PLACA Collective took off for Managua to create a monumental work for the Casa ANDEN, headquarters of the national teachers’ union, located in El Parque de las Madres. Our homies from the Mission community held benefit dances and auctions at The Farm to raise the funds for our paint and airfares. The Mission launched us on an incredible journey that would contrast the petty internal turf wars of our own community with the far more tragic and massively violent Contra War on the Nicaraguan Revolution. But in some ways, the experience of painting El Amanecer in the center of Managua also illustrated to me that we live in a war zone in the Mission, connected by gangs, police violence, immigration, the AIDS epidemic and economic injustice to the millions  of our southern cousins in Mexico and Central America.

On this journey, one of the most moving experiences of my life, I was privileged to participate in the second line of defense of the Nicaraguan Revolution: international solidarity. For three very intense weeks, we labored in collaboration with the National Teacher’s Union, the National School of Muralism and the merciless heat to create a mural celebrating the role of the teacher in social revolution. Entitled “El Amanecer”, the mural is one of a very few that has survived to date the assaults of subsequent right wing governments and their grey paint. The mural is documented in the book, Murals of the Nicaraguan Revolution . I’ll never forget the all-nighter Miranda Bergman and I pulled, guarded by two teenage lesbians, all of us armed with machine guns, working in spite of the threat of a U.S.-backed Contra attack. We were given a short course in the fundamentals of those weapons in case their use became necessary in the event of a gringo invasion. Living and working in revolutionary Nicaragua was also one of my greatest lessons in gender equality. This was a society where no one messed with you, knowing you were very possibly armed. I had never felt so safe and respected as a woman, able to walk down the street at any, hour day or night, without being harassed. Clusters of men on the street in front of a bar at midnight never ventured more than a polite, “buenas noches, compañera.” As my girlfriend Chilo Quiroz Barrios once said to me, after the fall of the Sandinistas, “La revolución fue la única cosa que se preocupaba por la mujer”.

EL AMANECER, a collective mural project with Miranda Bergman, Hector Noel Méndez, Ariella Seidenberg and Arch Williams. 700 square foot acrylic mural on the facade of ANDEN (Asociacíon Nacional de Educadores de Nicaragua-National Teachers Association of Nicaragua), in El Parque de las Madres, Managua, Nicaragua. Photo: Juana Alicia

The mural we created in 1986 for the National Teachers’ Union was much more than an aesthetic contribution: it was a deep expression of love and appreciation on both sides of the international exchange. The Nicaraguans that hosted us treated us like familia, and our experience reflected the saying we cited in our mural, “La solidaridad es la ternura de los pueblos” (Solidarity is the tenderness between peoples/nations). It was incredibly moving to create a work of art for a society struggling to create a sovereign alternative to capitalist imperialism and fight a war at the same time. We observed first hand the fate of teachers who went into the war zones to implement a curriculum of cultural, ethnic and political equality: ambush, rape and death. We saw many young people wounded in war. We were witnesses to the toll of alcoholism on a nation that lost one third of its population to the violence wrought by our own government. Returning to the Mission in the fall of 1986, I was a changed person.

For many months I turned to portraiture of the people I was close to, having been shaken by the presence and impermanence of the war zone I had visited. In the spring of 1987, David Solnit, an activist for Central American solidarity, for a poster design. David was organizing events at the Concord Naval Weapons Station to protest U.S. shipments of weapons to the wars in Central America. I created a red, black and white illustration of guns pointed at a Nicaraguan child with his book bag, standing in front of the mural we had painted. Two large hands in the foreground of the image hold the guns away from the child. On September 1, 1987, at the Concord Naval Weapons Station demonstrations, a munitions train would run over one of the protestors, a decorated Vietnam veteran named Brian Willson. He lost both of his legs in that disaster and became a symbol of struggle for the international peace movement. This tragedy, combined with the U.S. invasion of Honduras that same year, angered me and inspired the mural “Cease Fire/Alto al Fuego” at the corner of Mission and 21st Streets. The communities of both the Mission and World College West, where I taught, came together for a fundraiser at a gallery, with music by Enrique Ramirez and poetic offerings by my compadres Juan Felipe Herrera and Margarita Luna Robles. We auctioned off my original drawing and one of my students won it. The party provided the funding for scaffolding and paint, Nidal of the Café Nidal provided the wall and the people waiting for the bus at that corner provided the moral support for creating that piece. As I was finishing it, the antiwar community organized marches down Mission Street to protest the ongoing invasion of Honduras, and the mural became part of that street theater. The mural that I had thought of a pure protest endured untouched for many years. In 2002, when it had begun to peel and get small tags, I decided to restore it. I repainted most of the piece, this time a little darker, in more chiaroscuro tones, given the ongoing nature of its theme. The wars in Central America had ended, but the U.S. government continued and continues to wage war in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, it is a piece whose time has come and gone and come again.

The Mission Pool and   Playground at 19th and Linda Streets has been a gathering place for the neighborhood since the 1930’s, when it was called the Nickel Pool, dubbed for its entrance price. Heavily graffitied in the 1980’s, it received a recreation center addition under the auspices of then-mayor Diane Feinstein. On the day of its inauguration, a neighborhood organizer got her on tape, promising to fund murals for the neighborhood if it respected the walls and desisted from covering them with graffiti. . In 1985 I collaborated with Emmanuel C. Montoya, Susan K. Cervantes, several other artists, community organizers and two rival neighborhood gangs, Happy Homes and 19th Street, to create the mural on the Linda Street façade. In 1988, I also collaborated with Susan K. Cervantes and Raul Martinez to paint the mural on the 19th Street façade of the Mission Swimming Pool. When we approached the City’s Park and Rec Department to sponsor and fund the 19th Street mural, they stipulated that they wanted a pastoral image, devoid of the multitudes of human figures depicted in the previous mural. We designed the “New World Tree” piece in the form of a traditional Mexican ceramic tree of life, full of birds and animals, Adam and Eve and their children. In the center of the composition, the jade eye of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, radiates light across the entire surface of the work. In the background, and surrounding the tree, the San Francisco Bay is pictured, with native wildlife and human inhabitants at peace in their environment. Our intent was to create a peaceful outdoor temple for the park, the street. The Aztec symbol for the heart is painted on the door to the swimming pool. New World Tree is an ode to connection of all human bloodlines, to water as the source of all life and to the natural beauty of the Bay Area. I remember listening to the Iran-Contra hearings in the U.S. Congress as I stood on the scaffolding, painting, appalled at the ongoing violence in Central America and the secret government that had been created to support the trading of guns for drugs. The distance between the Mission Swimming Pool and the ¡Cease Fire! piece is two blocks, the distance between utopian vision and war zone.

NEW WORLD TREE OF LIFE, 69′ x 25′ acrylic Politec and Nova Color mural at the Mission Pool, 19th and Linda Streets, San Francisco, California. Designed and executed in collaboration with Susan Cervantes and Raul Martínez. Photo: Tim Drescher

In 1989, I lost my brother to the AIDS epidemic. An artist, teacher, dancer and writer, Daniel Roberto Barela was one of thousands of casualties in our community, in San Francisco. The Mission lost many talented and brilliant souls to this plague, another sort of war zone. Among them were dramaturges and directors, including Rodrigo Reyes and Hank Tavera, whose artistic legacy and sexual honesty set the stage for the current waves of gay and lesbian theater artists in the Mission community. On a personal level, this era was marked by a sort of frenzied production, which was a response of both mourning and rebirth. Sometimes we are moved to greater heights of creativity when our world seems most threatened to collapse. I did two murals outside of San Francisco, in San Jose and Santa Cruz, before the birth of my daughter Mayahuel in 1993. Three months after her birth, I found myself on the scaffolding of the San Francisco Women’s Building in the company of six other remarkable women, and over one hundred volunteers, in the process of creating the monumental work of MaestraPeace. Described as a “standing ovation to women’s liberation” by sister muralist, Miranda Bergman, the five-story work took us eighteen months to complete, and became a testament to collaboration between women, as well as a visual history of women artists, organizers, scientists, deities and unsung heroines. I continue to feel that this work of public art was the most fulfilling experience of its kind in my lifetime. The dream of projecting positive, life-affirming, powerful and revolutionary images of women for the sake of the Mission community, on an undeniably significant scale was vindicating in so many ways that I never could have predicted. It is a kind of “knocks-you-out” piece where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. MaestraPeace is the true fulfillment of a mural for me: that the skin of the architecture reflects the soul of its function. I am eternally grateful to the organization, my collaborators, the volunteer and passersby who gave me the opportunity to feel this power.

One of the greatest ironies after the completion of the MaestraPeace project was the fact that I could no longer afford to live in San Francisco. I had raised my son there until the late 1980’s, but by the time my daughter was born, gentrification and the boom had impacted the economy to such a degree that I could no longer afford to pay my rent or other expenses at City prices. I moved to Berkeley in 1995 but continued my long-distance love affair with the Mission, restoring the ¡Cease Fire! and MaestraPeace murals and painting a new piece at the same site as my first mural, Las Lechugueras. The original piece had deteriorated to the extent that it was not restorable. In order to return it to its original state, I would have to remove it from the wall and repaint it from scratch. Instead, in spite of the protests of some, I decided to create a new work for that wall. The new work, entitled La Llorona’s Sacred Waters, is the daughter of the first mural, and address the themes of women’s labor and environmental justice in a new way.

MAESTRAPEACE, mural on the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Building, front (north) and side (east) facades, each 150′ x 60′. Acrylic on stucco. Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, and Irene Perez. San Francisco Mission District, 18th Street @ Valencia ©1994

1994   MAESTRAPEACE, mural on the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Building, front (north) and side (east) facades, each 150′ x 60′. Acrylic on stucco. A collaboration with Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, and Irene Perez. San Francisco Mission District, 18th Street @ Valencia

In 2001, I taught a class at U.C. Davis, entitled “Latinas, Politics and Public Policy”, and many of the projects, discussions and research that arose while designing and teaching that class led me to issues of water. La Llorona, the seminal Medea myth of Mexican women, wherein the bereft indigenous mother of mixed-race children drowns them in sorrow, insanity and revenge when jilted by their father for a Spanish noblewoman. As Latina feminists have reclaimed her and removed her blame-the-victim status, replacing it with a critical analysis of conquest and patriarchy, I wanted to do the same in making her the protagonist of my mural. The painting is a large waterscape, composed of rivers, ocean waves, cascades, lakes and marshes. Composed in blue, red, grey and black, it is my Guernica, a somber message regarding the urgency of our environmental, economic and gender crises that threaten to destroy the world at the hands of greed and violence. Not water or fire, but greed and abuse of power are the sources of our undoing. The mural focuses on four sites of environmental, labor and immigration struggles: the Narmada River in India, Cochabamba, Bolivia, Mexico City and the U.S. Mexican border. It stood as the eerie predictor of the tsunami floods of 2004, and its significance unfolds within the ever-growing contexts of environmental devastation involving water. It was on this same corner that a new partnership and love came into my life, in the form of an old friend, a comrade in the struggles for art in the streets and on the shirts of everyone from the Mission to Managua. Tirso Gonzalez aka Araiza, painter, sculptor and master of silk screen of Mission Gráfica fame, helped me prepare the wall at 24th and York Streets again, this time to receive La Llorona, and my life turned that same corner in a new sense.

LA LLORONA’S SACRED WATERS Acrylic mural on stucco, 30’ 60’. 24th and York Streets, San Francisco Mission District, Juana Alicia ©2004

Three years later, we have collaborated on a life together, in the Bay Area and in Mérida, Yucatán, and have just completed a one and a half-ton bas relief sculptural mural is cement and steel, for the Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana (the Metropolitan Technical University) in that beautiful, ancient city. My work took a new turn as I learned to become a sculptor under the brilliant, scorching skies of the Yucatecan rain forest.

GEMELOS, mural in cast cement and steel, Juana Alicia and Tirso F. Gonzalez Araiza, Universidad Tecnológica Metropolitana/ UTM (Metropolitan Technical University), Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, ©2007.

Over the last three decades I have developed as a muralist, and as a person, fed by a community that loves, ignores, disdains and nourishes me. I learned how to be a public artist through my work within it, to flee its internal struggles for international challenges, to return with new perspectives, and to use those lessons to create new works in many other places. But I am always drawn back to the Mission, to the streets that hold the best of my secrets, desires and memories, a cultural birthplace that has allowed me to paint my life’s story, and the collective stories of our community.

Detail of Lechugueras Mural photo by Martha Edwards

True Colors Mural Project at Inkworks Press

Bryant Valentino Salvador Rodriguez's Detail of Mural Design

Visions of Peace and Justice prf

Inkworks Mural in Progress May 14, 2010


Allison Connor's Detail of Mural Design

Inkworks Color Sketch, True Colors Mural Project ©2010
Support Youth Arts:
THE INKWORKS MURALDonate Today to Support the Youth Arts Program and Make the Mural a Reality

See below for information on tax deductible donations to this exciting project.

After months of brainstorming, rough drafts, long discussions and many revisions, the True Colors mural arts program at Berkeley City College has finalized an amazing piece of art that is set to be painted on the facade of the Inkworks’ building in early 2010. True Colors is a project of renowned muralist Juana Alicia and will be partnering with the Streets Alive project of the Earth Island Institute to complete this epic and inspiring mural.

Featured here are final sketches competed by the students that detail various sections of the mural design. We are also using this opportunity to ask for your valued participation in making this all happen through a generous donation. The vast majority of the work that it will take to realize the vision the students of True Colors have for this important piece of public art will be on donated time. However there are certain costs that are unavoidable, such as paint and scaffolding, and that is where your support comes in!

Inkworks’ role as a long term sustainer of activism and organizing makes it a perfect match for True Colors use of mural making to educate students in critical social and environmental issues that face our local and global communities. Juana Alicia has facilitated a semester long process with the students of brainstorming, sketching and consulting with Inkworks in order to develop a beautiful final design for the mural. It will stretch across the entire front facade of the Inkworks building facing 7th street and encompass many of the important movements and campaigns that have organized in the Bay Area and beyond during the past 35 years. This colorful piece of public art is a contribution to the street life and character of the West Berkeley neighborhood that Inkworks calls home. It will be a historic piece of art, an educational tool and an additional landmark in the spirit of Berkeley’s uniqueness.

May 28th is our scheduled finish date so mark your calendars for an inaugural celebration! For previous coverage of the mural project please click here.

Painting is set to begin in early 2010 so this is a perfect time to help make this vision a reality. All donations are tax deductible and will be directly used to ensure that this vibrant and valuable community endeavor is completed.

Follow the link below to make a secure online donation:

IMPORTANT please paste the following line into the Comments and Questions section of the online donation form:

Donation for Streets Alive/True Colors Mural Arts Program on Behalf of Inkworks Press

The black and white sketches of the mural were created by Kwesi Acquaa, Joel S. Beaird, Sabrina Collins, Allison Connor, Diego Mendoza Cordero, Nube Cruz, Olivia Levins Holden, George Lippman, Amalia Gaspar, Maya Montoya, Ajene Moss, Amy Ortiz, Smokie, Heather Reaney, Valentino Rodriguez, Vanessa Verdin. Directed by Juana Alicia  © 2009 World Rights Reserved.


Benefit Party for Inkworks Mural at Casa Latina

Mural Celebration and Fundraiser

3 04 2010


Hosts:  Juana Alicia   Ariana Katovich and Jose Ruiz

Location: Casa Latina

1801 San Pablo Ave


Saturday, April 10, 7:00 PM

Phone: 510.859.9154

THE TRUE COLORS MURAL PROJECT, led by Juana Alicia Montoya,

will be painting its newest mural on the Inkworks Press Building in West Berkeley.

The mural, pictured in this invitation, is an amazing and colorful celebration of social justice movements.

Casa Latina will be hosting us in an empty storefront they just acquired for expansion of their panaderia. Jose Ruiz, owner and DJ, will be hosting the party, spinning great music, and allowing The True Colors Mural project to sell art, host a silent auction and offer other goodies to benefit the mural project.

Please RSVP to us by contacting Ariana at 510.859.9154

or email to

Sliding scale entry!! $15-25 at the door.

Juana Alicia participates in Arte Nuevo InteractivA ’07

Arte Nuevo InteractivA’07, the fourth edition of a biennale international curatorial project of new art, new media, electronic art and Experimental Interdisciplinary Laboratory will take place from June 14 to July 15, 2007 in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. The art exhibit is presented in conjunction with conferences, workshops, presentations, live media events, video screenings and performance with artists, curators, art historians and critics from Australia, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Peru, Slovenia, Mexico, England, El Salvador, Guatemala, Palestine, Dominican Republic, Colombia, United States, Canada, Chile, Iran, Germany, Lebanon and India.

Arte Nuevo InteractivA’07 ( is organized by Laboratorio Cartodogital and the office of Visual Arts of the Institute of Culture of Yucatan, Mexico. The biennale will be showcased at the galleries of Theater Peon Contreras, Centro Cultural UADY and Manolo Rivero Gallery. The Experimental Interdisciplinary Lab will take place from June 15 to June 30, 2007 at the mentioned locations, as well as in Centro Cultural de Merida Olimpo, UADY (Autonomous University of Yucatan), ESAY (Superior School of the Arts of Yucatan), UTM (Metropolitan Technological University), Teatro Merida and Centro de las Artes Santa Ana.

The Project is also sponsored by Prince Claus Foundation, SEACEX (Sociedad Estatal para la Accion Cultural Exterior de Espana), The Cultural Office of the City of Merida-Yucatan, the Cultural Office of the Spanish Embassy in Mexico, Canadian Arts Council, Robert Morris University, The British Art Council and Crossroads Schools of Santa Monica, California.

The project will present artworks in conjunction with a laboratory with artists, curators, scholars and critics from all corners of the world. Participating artists are: Santiago Ortiz, Belén Gache, Karla Solano, Polibio Díaz, GUESTROOM, Mr. Tamale, Patricia Martín, José Luis García Nava, Hackictectura, Juan Pablo Ballester, Alex Donis, Lucas Bambozzi, Michelle Blakeney, Juan José Díaz Infante, Colectivo de Cine Balata, Sara Malinarich, RicardoDomínguez, Coco Fusco, Luciano Ferrer, Christina McPhee, Miha Ciglar, Fernando Montiel Klint, Jaishri Abichandani, Jacqueline Lacasa, Christopher Coizer, Carolina Loyola-García, Juana Alicia, Tim Plaisted and Humberto Suaste among others

According to executive curator Raúl Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet: “Through the process of selecting themes, artists, projects, artworks and curators, the biennale interconnects these elements in a fluid variable geometry that articulates the dynamics of economic production of art in many regions of the world, the discursive formation of artistic practices, the constant erasure of these artists enacted by art history and the difficulties of curatorial practices outside the museum and government institutions. The grammar evolving as result of the curatorial process has its own discursive flow. The end results of the biennale, the conferences and the lab are the transformations of the initial intentions. As in a work of art, the moment when the physical interaction takes place denotes new positions even among the artists, scholars and critics involved in the project.

Executive Curator: Raúl Moaquech Ferrera-Balanquet (Cuba/USA/Mexico) Guest Curators: Gita Hashemi (Iran/Canada), Jenny Fraser (Australia), Lucrezia Cipitelli (Italy), Jorge Alban (Costa Rica), Laura Gonzalez Flores (México), Arlan Londoño (Colombia/Canada), Miguel Rojas Zotelo (Colombia), Laura Baigorri (Spain), Lila Pagola (Argentina) Creative Director: Jose Luis Garcia Perez Museographers: Gerardo Espejo, Raul Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet and Jose Luis Rodriguez de Armas,

Muros sin Fronteras – Viernes 1 de junio

La Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatan
a traves de Artes Visuales presenta:

“Muros sin Fronteras: la obra de Juana Alicia”

Viernes 1 de junio, 8:00pm
Museo de la Cancion
(Calle 57 x 48, Centro)

Entrada Libre

La Llorona project, San Francisco

Juana Alicia finished her new mural titled “La Llorona’s Sacred Waters” in June of 2004 at the corners of York and 24th Streets. With fiscal sponsorship by The San Francisco Women’s Center and the Galeria de la Raza, the support of Las Trenzas Latina Student and Alumnae Organization of UC Berkeley, and funding from The Potrero Nuevo Fund, The San Francisco Mayor’s Neighborhood Beautification Fund, the Greppi and Leone family and private donors, the artist was able to complete this project on women, water and globalization, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.
Read more about this project and see the photos

Juana Alicia in Yucatan

Juana Alicia reside actualmente en Mérida, Yucatán, México, y residirá en esa bella ciudad durante este año escolar. La Fundación Fulbright Garcia-Robles le ha ortorgado una beca para enseñar en la universidad pública de artes multidisciplinarias: ESAY (Escuela Superior de Arte de Yucatán). En colaboración con sus estudiantes, la muralista creará una obra monumental para la universidad en su nuevo sede en la antigua estación del ferrocarril en el centro de Mérida.

Juana Alicia is teaching workshops in Chicana/o Mural History, Design and Technique, which will culminate in a mural at the university’s new location, in the neo-Mayan art deco train station, an architectural jewel in downtown Mérida. ESAY is a multidisciplinary arts university, featuring visual arts, music, theater, dance and film/multimedia. It is a rich and vibrant environment, and the artist is honored to be participating in this dynamic project at the virtual crossroads of culture in Southeastern Mexico.

Juana Alicia se encuentra dando cursos en la historia, el diseño y la técnica del mural Chicana/o con el fin de ejecutar un mural para la universidad en su nueva sede dentro de la estación del tren, una joya arquitectónico arte deco en el centro de Mérida. ESAY es una universidad de artes multidisciplinarias que ofrece licenciaturas en artes visuales, música y danza. Juana Alicia quisiera agradecer a la Fundación Fulbright Garcia-Robles, a COMEXUS y a su institución anfitriona por esta oportunidad de participar en un intercambio cultural dinámico en un ambiente de una historia tan rica como la del sudeste de México.

Leer mas del proyecto / Read more about the project

A Woman’s Place


Bridging the gaps of language, culture and gender is a thrilling and difficult endeavor. The mural project that the United Electrical Workers Union proposed to me in 1998 was conceived as a way to connect communities of working people between Mexico and the United States. In this case, the content would focus on the current conditions, history and achievements of women in the labor movement. The labor of this work of art was to make visible the strength in our commonalties, and the richness of our differences as workers from two countries whose destinies have been deeply entwined. The mural, “A Woman’s Place…” also deals with these issues around the globe, but its particular focus is on the U.S. and Mexico.

As in nature, diversity in society is essential to the survival of the species. In order for us to create a just and peaceful world, which is also essential to our survival, workers in all countries need to practice citizen diplomacy, and come together to organize for the rights of all people. As an artist, I see my job as a midwife of visions. I work with communities to help unearth their highest values and their deepest problems, and give birth to an image that applies the wisdom of those values to the solution of their problems. I come from the Latin American artistic tradition of magical realism, among others, and my work as a painter is also in the role of community activist, organizer and teacher.

As with many other mural projects, I was not the only person creating the image for “A Woman’s Place…” The U.E. had planted the seeds for the mural in its various worker exchanges between union members in the U.S. and union members from the F.A.T. (Frente AutÈtico del Trabajo) union in Mexico. Delegations of men and women visited each other’s plants, factories, micro-industries and homes, often leaving their country of birth for the first time. Previous to the mural I was to paint in Erie, Pennsylvania, two other murals celebrating the friendship between these unions had been painted: the first mural by North American artist Mike Alewitz, in the national office of the F.A.T. in Mexico City, and the second one by Mexican muralist Daniel Manriequez at the U.E. local in Chicago. I proposed that the union sponsor a mural project specific to the history and role of women in the movement for international labor solidarity. The U.E. responded enthusiastically, identifying Local 506 in Erie as a strong candidate for the site. Many of the union’s membership employed at General Electric in Erie had traveled to Mexico, and had been active in building an international solidarity movement. Moreover, there were strong women in the union who had taken leadership with the men to build this cultural and political alliance.

I began to collect the individual stories of women’s lives through the use of a questionnaire, which the U.E. and the F.A.T. helped me to circulate in both countries. Among the questions were ” What was your first experience working outside the home, and what was your first struggle for your rights as a worker, “Why is the relationship between the U.E. and the F.A.T. important to you personally”, and “How do you want to participate in the mural project? By contributing photos, drawings, oral histories, writing, painting, cooking, doing publicity or fundraising?”

Women in both countries responded with more written and photographic material than I could include in the mural. I also received valuable photographic material from Lina Katz, Miriam Ching Louie and David Bacon. As part of my research, I traveled to LeÛn, Guanajuato, Mexico, to meet with workers and leadership in the F.A.T., notably with women strikers from Irapuato, a neighboring town. The stories about their ongoing strike against the packing plant Conjeladora del Rio (CRISA) are represented on one of the train cars. Union historians, organizers and archivists also sent me vital information, and I began to design the image. It was through the collaboration of many people that the picture came together.

The story that the mural tells is one of evolution, revolution and transformation. The central metaphor is the butterfly, whose metamorphosis symbolizes women’s coming of age in the labor movement. The growth and development of women’s power and leadership has required fierce, intelligent unity and persistence, particularly in the workplace. This metamorphosis has also happened within the family and our societies at large, as women have demanded full citizenship in every sphere of their lives. For this reason, the mural represents women’s lives inside of both the workplace and the family.

I have situated the “her” stories of women’s movements in labor struggles on the cars of two trains that meet at the symbolic border between our countries, the Rio Bravo (commonly known in the U.S. as the Rio Grande). These two locomotives, like those built at the GE plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, carry the history and destiny of the women into the future. The future takes the form of two young women, one from Erie, the other from Guanajuato, who each stand in front of a braking train, surrounded by dust clouds, insisting on the power of their own visions and goals. The young woman from Pennsylvania holds a soccer ball painted like a globe, with a map of the American hemisphere on its surface. The young Mexican woman holds a placard that reads, “We demand freedom for all workers”.

I have located the trains in their respective landscapes: the autumn hills of Pennsylvania and the arid, rolling earth of Guanajato, Mexico. The butterfly, seen as a transparent overlay at the center of the design, is also shown in all of the other stages of her life span, from chrysalis to cocoon to caterpillar. In the ancient and modern iconography of Mexico, the butterfly is synonymous with movement, and the symbol of the butterfly is expressed in many ways, from a simple “x” form to an elaborate drawing or print, called an “estampa”. The Nauhuatl (Aztec language) name for this pictograph is “ollin” and it is recognized as a sort of “yin yang” symbol of Mesoamerica: the movement that keeps the universe in balance. The two central figures, Linda Leech of the U.E., and Alicia Rosas, of the F.A.T., are sending their messages of peace and solidarity to each other, across the waters of the Rio Bravo. The words of Linda’s poetry and the doves Alicia is releasing, cross paths in the air at the center of the composition, creating a “zone of understanding” at the vortex of the image. The center is also where the histories converge and begin: at the opening of the twentieth century in both countries. Each car depicts women’s labor history during different decades, moving out from the center, from past to present. On the far left and far right-hand sides of the trains, we see present day international struggles against the global sweatshop.

Both men and women support the lives of women, actually and symbolically. The “truck” or base of the train is made up of the people that form the support structure for the changing times, and who carry the weight of history on their shoulders. They are everyday people, and pictured among them is the award winning journalist and current political prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal. On the earth beneath the train, in the foreground of the mural, the imprint of history lives. Just left of the center of the mural is a tunnel, representative of the human transportation system that was the Underground Railroad. While living near Freeport we (the mural painting team) came to understand that Erie, Pennsylvania was one of the north-most sites of the Underground Railroad, where runaway slaves sometimes found shelter in tunnels beneath homes, or more often, hid in the dug-out shelters by the side of a ravine, waiting to be ferried across Lake Erie to safety and freedom in Canada. Thanks to the Erie Historical Society, and in particular to Karen James, I learned much about the Underground Railroad. One startling revelation was that more Black people sought refuge from slavery in Mexico than in the North or in Canada. This was another connection of the histories of working people on both sides of the border!

On the right side of the mural’s foreground, a modern day Zapatista-style graffiti artist sprays “Tod@s somos indi@s” (We are all Indians) on the earth. She paints a reminder that many of us, on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, share an indigenous past, and that the places we currently inhabit are on Indian land. The landscape contains the scars and legacies of our migrations and struggles for autonomy, as workers, as women, and as people of all colors. We engrave our lives on the land, which bears testimony to our work in the health or disease of our environment. The intense beauty of Western Pennsylvania and Central Mexico is threatened by the uncontrolled contamination that is the result of industrial and maquiladora abuse of all living systems. On the left side of the mural, we see the GE plant in the background exhaling steam and smoke, and on the right side’s train car, a woman makes her way across the polluted Irapuato River on her way to the oppressive working conditions, under armed guard, at the Congeladora del Rio fruit packing plant.

The process of painting the mural was intense. We began the work on August 7, 2000. I was fortunate to have wonderful assistants: RosalÌa Mariz, who helped transfer my sketch to the wall, and three young women who assisted me for two high-pressure weeks. Tomashi and Rhea Vedro had been my excellent teaching assistants in Oakland, and Vaimoana L. Niumeitolu, a friend of Rhea’s, was a bonus surprise assistant to the project. During the cartooning (drawing the outline) and the painting, we worked fifteen-hour days, as a team of two to four women. Tomashi, like me, had traveled to Erie from San Francisco. Rhea and Vaimoana had ridden a Greyhound from New York City to join our effort. My daughter, Mayahuel, who was seven years old at the time, also assisted.

Our multiculti team of three Latinas, one Anglo woman, one Black woman and one Tongan woman made many friends in the union and in the Erie community, and people supported us by doing childcare, bringing meals, photographing the process, looking in on us at night, publicizing the project and planning the inaugural celebration, which took place during the U.E.’s national convention, during the last week of August. The mural appeared to be nearly complete at that time, and we were painting frantically behind the curtain five minutes before it was unveiled to conventioneers and community members. Union members from across the country and members of the local Latino community received the mural with great enthusiasm, with a wonderful party, complete with live music, eloquent words and great food. Nevertheless, I would continue to work on the painting for several weeks after that night. My assistants went home to their respective coasts, taking my daughter home too, and I remained to unify the styles in the painting and bring the work to completion.

Erie, Pennsylvania and Guanajuato, Mexico are a study in contrasts. As a U.S.-born Latina and former farmworker from California, these worlds were both familiar to me, and represented in many ways, the duality of my own cultural experience. The lifelong work of trying to make sense or poetry out of these contrasting realities fit perfectly with the nature of the project. How do we create understanding between these often-disconnected realities? How do we code switch in the language of organizing? It was through the worker exchanges between the women of the U.E. and the F.A.T. unions of the U.S. and Mexico that women from both sides of the border gained insight and compassion for the struggles and challenges of each other’s families and communities. I found that the people that had actually visited each other’s countries had the greatest insight into the strategy of international organizing and building solidarity across racial, cultural, gender and geographical borders. They are the citizen diplomats that can communicate to their compatriots, who can break down national stereotypes and media distortions. When we see that everyone loses when jobs move out of the U.S. and become slave labor in Mexico or other parts of the developing world. The workers from both sides who have met and experienced the other’s lives are forging an understanding that poor and working women all over the world need to unite in order to prevent the globalization of capital from devastating our human rights and environmental health.

These women have found a voice and an identity while resisting this devastation . They have gained a new respect for themselves, as well as from their families and co-workers. This has certainly come at a price, as reflected in the accounts of many of the women, who told stories of suffering beatings, ostracism, rape, sexual harassment, physical violence and legal persecution, at the hands of husbands, bosses, armed thugs, and the respective governments themselves. For these women, the work of labor organizing has been a difficult but rewarding path toward independence from many of those forms of violence. Many of these women also spoke eloquently of the transformation of the children and men in their lives, who were also positively affected by the women’s activism. In some cases, women found themselves isolated and abandoned, in others, men and families changed, inspired by the courageous and positive examples of women who risked much to struggle for the welfare of all. I was inspired by the beauty of these stories to create this mural and to make visible both the hardest battles and the most beautiful triumphs of these working women.

I thank the United Electrical and Machine Workers of America, in particular Local 506, for the opportunity to paint these stories.

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“Santuario/Sanctuary” at San Francisco International Airport

Santuario is a collaborative work between Juana Alicia and Emmanuel C. Montoya, located at the new international terminal of the San Francisco International Airport. The collaborative work, a two-story fresco framed by a suite of bas relief sculptures, will be open to the public for the first time on Sunday, December 3, 2000, when over 50,000 people are expected for the day-long festivities. Our piece, entitled œSanutario/Sanctuary”, is one in a total of seventeen works of public art that were commissioned for this beautiful new building that has been declared a museum. œSantuario” is located in Gateroom 97 of Terminal G, and spans the second and third floor walls of that gateroom.

Our mixed media work honors the significant role that the San Francisco International Airport plays in the lives of Bay area residents and travelers from around the world. The artwork combines a mural in the traditional “fresco buono” technique of the Italian renaissance with a bas relief sculptural “frame” of shore birds. We have created a monumental work that has a strong visual impact when seen from a distance, but is also a “slow read”, rich enough in detail and nuance so that the viewer can spend a long time in its presence, discovering new layers and meanings. The work represents our cultural tradition in the fresco mural, which spans a millennium, from its origins in Teotihuacan to the Mexican mural movement to the contemporary Chicano mural movement, in which we have participated actively.
About the Imagery

The concepts central to our design are the themes of: migration and permanence; movement and stillness; and intimacy within a public space. The airport is often the setting for some of the most dramatic moments and milestones in our lives. In our design we honor the wonderful and significant meetings and partings that happen in the airport, to bring to the foreground and freeze those moments in time, while creating a light-filled context of movement, flow of life and the energy of travel.

We are in some ways creating a mirror of the airport’s interior and exterior environments: human activity framed by the natural surroundings of San Bruno Mountain, Candlestick Park and the Bay. Bas relief shore birds encircle the entire scene, creating a frame of flight. The airport is in a geographic location that was once bay wetlands, a “migratory resting spot” for the multitudes of pelicans, avocets, cormorants, redwing blackbirds and egrets to name just a few. With their presence, we wish to remind people of the original inspiration for flight and to draw a parallel between the migrations of humanity and those of the natural world. We are honoring the movement in the universe: the motion and emotion associated with travel and with growth.

The architectural decoration on either sides of the windows echoes the “real” birds, and the circular form at the top of the space implies a sun, a planet or the circle of life itself.

It has often been said that flight is the dream of humanity: in the movement created from the small child being tossed into the air, to the feather-like flight of a paper airplane, the fantasy is fulfilled!

The large figures in the immediate foreground are also musing, in a dreamlike state: the young woman moves toward the viewer, absorbed in her thoughts, which are echoed in the figures behind her. The elderly gentleman moves into the scene, contemplating both past and future. We seek to represent not only the diversity of the international communities that visit San Francisco, but also our own citizenry, rich in its own diversity, a hybrid of cultures that form the new, transforming nature of culture on the Pacific Rim.

The mother and son meeting in traditional greeting on the far left are from Cambodia, but also reflect the influence of western culture in the little boy’s attire. Directly behind them is a family with roots in Michoacan, Mexico, joyfully reuniting. In the background, Euro-Americans, Middle Eastern Americans and African Americans hurry to their destinations. A Guatemalan refugee carries traditional and modern bundles, while a racially-mixed couple embraces near the windows. Both the “native-born” and international visitor interact, embrace and greet each other, essentially indistinguishable in a milieu of mutual respect and great diversity.
About the Process

Our work is a collaborative effort between the two of us; we arrived at the concept and the composition together, working on and critiquing each other’s ideas and drawings, so that the final drawing was a blending of each other’s styles and approaches. True to the nature of the past seventeen years of our association, we assisted, critiqued and learned from each other in the process of creating the full-scale work. However, in the actual execution of the project, Juana Alicia executed the fresco painting, Emmanuel the bas relief sculpture.
Emmanuel Montoya: Bas Relief Elements

I executed these images of shorebirds as Bas Relief wood sculpture. Bas Relief (low reliefs), are sculptured panels that have a very slight projection from their background. Alto Reliefs (high reliefs) have as much projection as a full free-standing sculpture shape, but are still considered reliefs because they attached to and often composed on a wall or a panel limitation. The idea is create within a materially-limited area the illusion of a full-bodied shape.

used kiln-dried Basswood to create these pieces; it is a light-colored soft wood, easy to carve. This sculpture will require little maintenance, dry dusting every one to two years.
Juana Alicia: Fresco Painting

The painted mural was done in the renaissance tradition of fresco buono or true fresco. I worked an experienced plasterer, Diana Durand, in preparing the wall, and did the actual painting myself. I also had an excellent assistant, Tim Hern›ndez, who ground pigments as well as creating and perforating tracings of my original drawings in order to transfer them to the wall.

I did my masters thesis in fresco painting at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1990, and Stephen P. Dimitroff and Lucienne Bloch were my teachers and supervisors on the thesis. It was our understanding at the time that if they were to invest so much time in training me, that I would commit myself to continue the tradition of fresco painting in the future. Although I created many small fresco panels, and many monumental murals in other media, this would be my first large public commission in this medium, and the second fresco on this scale created in San Francisco since the 1930’s. Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff painted a beautiful 10′ x 40′ fresco at Saint Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in 1965, which was re-dedicated in 1995. I seek to continue the tradition of this wonderful technique, examples of which have endured worldwide over many centuries. Fresco pigments are light-fast, as each molecule of pigment is encased in a crystal of lime as the plaster dries.

There are many examples of such works that are exposed to strong and direct sunlight on a daily basis, such as the cycles of murals at La Secretaria de Educaci§n Pèblica (The Secretariat of Public Education) and at the Palacio Nacional (The National Palace), both in central Mexico City. These are both located in the Z§calo section of the capital, and are exposed to perhaps the highest imaginable levels of pollution, but are in excellent, brilliant condition, sixty to seventy-five years since their creation.

Both the sculptural and the painted surfaces of our work will be relatively free from maintenance, requiring dusting or cleaning every five to ten years. The fresco can be cleaned with a light sponging when required. Ann Rosenthal, Conserator for Coit Tower and the Beach Chalet murals, says, “For a painting, if the artist’s technique is sound, there’s no more durable medium than fresco. It has to be all mineral, and is not subject to the same fading as other organic materials are. Fresco doesn’t require cleaning more than absolutely necessary- it would need inspection and dusting every one or two years, but needs to age and probably within our lifetime would not need a wet cleaning. If the mechanical systems within the airport provide for filtered air on a regular basis, it would not need a wet cleaning for fifty years.”

For these reasons, as well as a love for the luminosity and beauty of the medium, I have chosen fresco.

*Stephen and his wife, Lucienne Bloch were assistants to Diego Rivera in his murals created at the Detroit Art Institute, Rockefeller Center and the San Francisco Art Institute. Stephen is a master plasterer in fresco, and Lucienne an accomplished and recognized fresco painter in her own right. They have restored Rivera’s murals at both the Detroit Art Institute and the San Francisco Art Institute.

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UCSF Medical Walls Mural – Completed

SANARTE: DIVERSITY’S PATHWAY, mural environment at UCSF Medical Center,
400 Parnassus Avenue. Ceramic tile murals and embedded sidewalk by
Juana Alicia ©2005 World Rights Reserved. An original work, owned and
commissioned by the University of California, San Francisco.
Photography: Anobel Odisho ©2005 World Rights Reserved

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