Spending our time untethering the mind, getting the fidgets out, exploring the in-between ideas, and learning kintsugi.

Mural hunting in Mission District

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Mural in SFO

Mural in SFO

I had seen some of the Mission murals when I had been in the neighborhood. But never before had I made any special effort to go see the Murals. So, last weekend I decided to rectify the matter. There are several murals in the Mission District – on 24th street, Mission, Valencia, on the Women’s Building. But there are two main hotspots for murals in Mission District, one is Balmy Alley and the other is Clarion Alley.

Balmy Alley, is right in the middle of the Latin American community on the 24th Street, surrounded by cool cultural icons like the Galleria de La Raza and Precita Eyes.

On the day of my visit, kids were playing soccer in the street, likely a spillover group from nearby Garfield Square park. It was relatively quiet otherwise – a lady was watering her plants, splashing the murals in the process, her little chihuahua was loitering about, a young man was smoking in his garage – just a lazy summer afternoon. I had imagined there would be food smells in this alley, of roasting meat and chillies but it was devoid of odors, good or bad. These murals change with time, but I noticed one dating back to 1998, it was still vibrant. Not all were equally lucky. Overgrown Bougainvilleas bushes were hiding some. One featured Frida Kahlo which reminded me that SFMOMA is running a retrospective on her. I should remember to visit – I have always been intrigued by her self portraits.

Clarion Alley is the subversive version of Balmy Alley. Oddly enough, this narrow street smells of piss and vomit. Sandwiched between crowded Mission Street and the fashionable Valencia, it is a stone’s throw away from Mission Police Station. Furthermore, it is host to an annual block party celebrating the newest mural contributions. San Francisco is a bit odd in places. Clarion Alley, most certainly, is one of the oddest. While the murals here are inspired by Balmy Alley, they are far greater in number, more varied in style, and more contemporary. In India, people frequently paint walls with murals of Gods and Goddesses, to stop people from pissing or spitting betel leaf juices on the walls. A similar idea would help relieve this street of its foul smells as well. But then, it is unlikely that the murals would be as interesting.

SF Mural

SF Mural

Even now, when I look at my photos of these murals, I notice a few things I hadn’t noticed earlier. I see alterations too. The photo with this post shows one where a mustache has been added – a lesser act of disfigurement than most. I didn’t realize it at the time. Its subject looked feminine. But in San Francisco, ambiguous sexuality never raises eyebrows. It was only later, when I was comparing some photographs, I realized what had happened in this case.

Travel Note: Precita Eyes holds Balmy Alley Mural walks on weekends. Clarion Alley Mural Project manages the murals at Clarion Alley and focus on emerging artists of all ages – this will explain the variety of styles that can be found here. Clarion Alley is probably not safe after dark but if you are here for the Murals, you are likely to be here during the daytime. For complete set of city murals, you will need to visit Coit Tower, the Women’s building (near Clarion) and also check out Diego Rivera’s murals at the Art Institute of San Francisco and San Francisco City College.

A trip to the Mission District can always be combined with plenty of cheap good eats, trip to the nearby Mission Dolores and the Mission Dolores park from where there is a beautiful view of the downtown skyline. Also, Valencia Street is great for shopping. For a step by step guide including a Google map, click here.

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  1. […] should keep me going for a few hours. I definitely need the walk now. First we will sample some murals of Mission District. We are now walking through Clarion Alley. Don’t mind the smell of piss. And, don’t get […]

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