November 6, 2006
The restoration of a prominent Haight Street mural depicting influential American anarchists was unveiled Wednesday night displaying ten new activists, including Brad Will, the New York journalist killed last Friday in protests in Oaxaca, Mexico.
"All of the people in the mural in some way or another took risks," said Susan Greene, the artist who painted the original mural in 1994 and oversaw its restoration. "He died to cover the story. That's kind of heroic to me. I wanted to mark his life in some way."
Will appears at the bottom right corner of the mural with his video camera, seemingly recording the menagerie of political activists - some decked out in turn of the century suits and bow ties, others in flowing hippie garb or more casual street wear. All stand before shelves of multicolored books, looking around with bemused discomfort.
The original mural on an 8-by-20 foot board featured 20 activists; the restoration kept the mural at the same size.
The "Anarchists in America" mural is part of Bound Together Books, the anarchist bookstore around the corner. It was a local landmark until three years ago when graffiti damaged it and it was taken down.
"Over the last three years, people have asked about the mural," said Tom Alder, a member of the bookstore's collective since 1979. "It's good to have it back."
Bound Together was founded in 1976, on a corner just down the street from its current location at Haight and Masonic. Entirely run by volunteers and managed by group consensus, the store stocks politically and culturally subversive books and magazines.
In addition to Will, Greene added Jeff Yippie and Richard "Tet" Tetenbaum, two former employees of the bookstore who have passed away since the mural was first designed. They were squeezed in alongside subversive luminaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, two influential anarchist thinkers and organizers who lived for a time in the Bay Area and Lucy Parsons, an influential African American labor activist from Chicago.
Luis Kemnitser, who passed away in 2006, was also added to the new mural. Kemnitser was a beloved professor at San Francisco State who helped fund the Needle Exchange, a program with provides clean needles free of charge to drug users in the hopes of limiting the spread of AIDS and other diseases.
Greene, who initially painted the mural in 1994, said she hoped the mural will continue to evolve as the neighborhood and the political landscape changes.
"Murals can be a really good way of communicating and making things visible," said Greene. "They're like living walls to me. I like to keep them alive and keep them current. I'm not the same person I was ten years ago and neither is the world."
Over a 20-year period, Greene has painted over 30 murals in San Francisco, Nicaragua and Palestine. In addition to her art, she's a clinical psychologist and professor at the New College and Goddard College in Vermont and an administrator at the San Francisco Art Institute.
This isn't the first time she has had to rehabilitate one of her murals. Another work of hers on 23rd and Mission streets that depicted pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie and controversial journalist and death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal, among other leftist leaders, has been defaced and restored several times.
More recently, a 30-foot pro-Palestinian mural she helped install at 21st Street was covered up after being defaced several times. The owner of the store where it was painted on was also being threatened.
"We decided to cover it until such a time as it's safe to uncover it," she said.
Her next project, she said, will be to publish recordings of many of the activists featured in the mural, which she hopes to do with The Freedom Archives, an association in the Mission that records audio and video of activist events and personalities.