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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

‘I Feel Thrilled While I’m Painting a Mural’

from the Feb. 8, 2023 Bulletin

art and culture

Muralist, printmaker, and painter Juana Alicia also teaches — and not just art. She’s taught migrant and bilingual education, as well as community organizing, and sees teaching and parenting as akin to working as an artist. No wonder that she’s done some of her murals in collaboration with students and community, in both the Bay Area as well as cities in México. Her relocation to Mérida means that broader circles of Mexican students — and walls — will be benefiting from her powerful creative presence.

Photo by Victoria Alvarado

You came of age in the exhilarating atmosphere of Detroit in the 1970s, a center for revolutionary black workers and the hub of a musical explosion. How did that shape your politics?


I’m originally from Texas, with Tejano/Jewish ancestry. Work at Chrysler settled my migrant family in Detroit in the 1950s. Yes, I took part in civil rights/Black Panther/antiwar actions, and I grew up listening to The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye: dancing in the streets and feeling the world on the cusp of a revolution!


From Detroit to México! How did that story unfold?


As a teenager, I made posters in solidarity with the United Farm Workers grape strike and boycott and found myself swept up by the Chicanx Movement. In 1972 I met Cesar Chavez at a rally, and he recruited me to work with the UFW in Salinas. I spent several years working in the strawberry and lettuce fields, where I learned from and bonded with my Mexican coworkers.


During that same period, my sister went to college at UNAM, and I began to visit México. I fell in love: the sinking marble museums, the smell of the panaderías, the Zócalo echoing with the voices of millennia and the smell of diesel in the streets of La CDMX. Later, my husband, Tirso Araiza, told me when we met that he intended to live in Mérida, the city of his birth. And we did it! I’m becoming a Mexican citizen. I want to participate in the vibrant cultural life of Mérida, the Yucatán and the country, and contribute artistically to this amazing place.


Have murals become your preferred art form?


My work evolved from the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District, whose mural renaissance has been legendary. I work in many forms, but I consider the mural my favorite. I love the theatricality, the social interaction in a public place, the monumentality, the interface with the environment. I feel thrilled while I’m painting a mural.

Murals make the images accessible to a wide public: to the folks in the streets, at demonstrations or just going about their lives, struggling, loving, suffering, rejoicing. 

You’ll be walking down the street, and pow! A building becomes a song, a film on walls, an alternative vision to the commercialism bombarding us from billboards to our telephones. The wall opens a door to new possibilities.

Do you intend your works to serve a political/social purpose?


I see some of my murals as wake-up calls, shockers, like The Spill mural in central Berkeley. Others celebrate the power of women, of history, of hope. I visualize a better world as well as project a resounding critique of the systems that destroy us, with graphic art a tool for organizing. 


Thanks to allies in the US, some of my images have been enlarged to monumental size and plastered on the streets in several Bay Area locations. The "Get Out! ¡Fuera!” image of the Trump statue falling has become such a piece. The role of this kind of art in urban environments: to humanize public spaces.

GET OUT!•¡FUERA! Drawing on scratchboard, Juana Alicia ©2020

What do you see as an artist’s task in these times?


As Nina Simone once said: “I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty.” And at this crucial time in our lives, with everything so desperate, how can you be an artist and not reflect the times? As artists, we can remove structures of oppression from our collective imagination and replace them with visions that celebrate our autonomy and power.

Cenotes, Mural at Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán (ESAY), collaboration with students, 2007