Honoring Christopher Rose + Painting Veterans Alley

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“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If Veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.”
– Thicht Nhat Hanh

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, and remains the single largest loss of life from a foreign ‘attack’ on American soil. We look to the after math of this tragic and controversial event, and see how it was kindling for a raging political and military wildfire, leading up to the U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, it is estimated that over 6,700 U.S. deaths occurred as a result of both wars, with much higher numbers for those wounded or injured. In rememberance, Eternal Queens honors the lives of those who died in war, and takes a look at the artistic expression of able bodied and disabled veterans who returned from the harsh realities of the war.

EQ went out to San Francisco Veteran’s Alley to show support and tune into the mural project that has been evolving in Shannon Alley over the past 2 years. We met up with Amos (below), one of the mural project founders who invited myself and my partner, Dino, out to paint a commemoration piece in the Alley. Amos, a veteran of the U.S. Naval Submarine service, realized this mural project when he was photographing homeless vets (a.k.a. Angels) at night, in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood where many homeless vets reside in the streets suffering from the aftermath of war trauma, mental health issues, and addiction.  This inspired the birth of a massive, one-block long piece of living, healing artwork. The alley vividly showcases the voices, struggles, and expression of veterans, regardless of their discharge status, gender, time served, or sexual orientation.

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Peace From Amos: In front of a mural in progress

As we arrived, there was one artist painting a wall which read, “CHELSEA MANNING: Wikileaks Whistle Blower + LGBTQ HERO.”  I soon find out that he is a veteran just as most, if not all of the other artists who have painted in the alley are. You can hear the passion in their voice when they speak about current events, the war, service, and of loss.

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An overwhelming number of people have directly or indirectly experienced loss or know someone who has lost a friend or loved one as a result of war. My partner’s cousin, Christopher Rose, was in fact the very first Iraq war casualty from San Francisco back in June of 2006. Christopher, a Filipino-American known for his smile and devotion to his family, was out one day on a regular duty patrol when he stopped and climbed out of his Humvee to remove some barbed wire blocking the road. As he was doing this, he stepped on a buried explosive device that detonated and killed him.  He was only 21 years old.

Christopher D. Rose would smile and remind his two older siblings how pretty they were. A kind hearted soul, he is missed greatly.

Christopher D. Rose would always flash his smile and remind his two older siblings how pretty they were.

That day we painted in Chris’ honor…

Showing love for Chris and EQ: The Pigeon to the left chills out with us the whole time.

Showing love for Chris and EQ: The Pigeon to the left chills out with us the whole time.

“The first casualty of war is TRUTH”

“The first casualty of war is TRUTH”

As we painted, kids walk through the alley and ask about the many pieces of art. I hoped that it got them thinking about the consequences of war in a different way than the fictionalized dramas that are projected to them through the media. The art in this alley provides an alternative to the images, movies, television, and video games that glorify warfare, militarism, and violence. It brings awareness to the reality of war, illuminates the fact that service in the military isn’t as entertaining as playing Call of Duty at their house or watching their favorite violent action movie.

As you walk up and out of the alley, it takes only a block or so before you see an ad for the flavor of the week role-playing video game. I hope that the message that people absorb by walking through the alley day by day serves as a buffer to these types of visual assaults. May it grab the attention of who ever needs to see it and get them thinking more about the control that media has in feeding the military-industrial complex. Some people may not like it, they may think it’s an ‘eye-sore’, I say- it’s only sore because the truth really hurts.

The conversations about the reality of war and violence and its impact on our selves, culture, families, economy, environment and collective psyche are important and they are healing. That’s why this Veteran’s Mural Project is a gem in the concrete jungle of San Francisco. It takes back a public space that houses parts of a collective wound and initiates meaningful conversation about one of the most relevant issues of our time. It gives veterans who have painful but truthful stories about the harsh reality of their experience a space to speak their mind and transforms the space into something more positive.

DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: What narratives do we REALLY want our media to propagate? What role is it playing now in our collective health?

DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: What narratives do we REALLY want our media to propagate? What role is it playing now in our collective health?

Today, I am disheartened and angry to be witnessing the beginning of yet another war in Syria as the U.S. government continues to lobby to gain support for the use of military force as ‘retribution’ for what it says was a deadly chemical weapons attack.  What will the toll be for the soldiers, the people, our community here in U.S. to get involved in yet another war? What wounds does this create for our future generation mentally, physically, and spiritually? What do you have to say about it?

May we remember today on 9/11 that peace is in every step we take… We have the power to stop the violence in our lives and help to Stop the violence worldwide. 

1 Love and Peace to All in Mind, Body, and Spirit

Samantha
EternalQueens

Interview with Patricia Rodriquez of Las Mujeres Muralistas

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Pacos Tacos Mural on 24th and South Van Ness

San Francisco in the 60s was a place for music, art and revolution. While the Civil Right movement continued nationwide, a small group of young Chicana artists started a revolution on the walls of San Francisco’s Mission district.

Beginning in Balmy Alley, they painted murals throughout the Mission. Called Las Mujeres Muralistas, these women sparked off a female mural renaissance throughout the US and Mexico.

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Patricia Rodriquez
( photo by Carlos B Cordova)

Eternal Queens was lucky to sit down with creator and co-founder of Mujeres Muralistas, Patricia Rodriquez. Currently residing in Oakland, Patricia developed the first Chicano Art History course at UC Berkley and has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico. She gave us a tour around her new house where she will be holding workshops and open galleries. Sunny and bright, it was the perfect place to sit down and talk about the past and her hopes for the future of female artists.

EQ: You’re such an inspiration to us, how did it all begin?

PR:  “I was born in Marfa, Texas, a little cow town in the middle of West Texas with magic lights that appear every night. Now, it’s a commune for artist and writers all over the world. I grew up with my Grandma and went to live with my parents and brothers when I was 9. In the 50s there was a huge migration of families working in fields. We past through many places. We went through Texas and picked cotton, we went through Mexico and picked Chile and then we got through California and finally landed in Ventura country.”

EQ: What interested you in painting and art?

PR: “When I was 11 I wanted to be an artist. I asked my mother to buy me a paint set. I went to painting classes at church and painted by numbers. But it was really the influence of my grandmother. In the evenings when I was growing up, she would sit at the table and write or sew and I was free to do whatever I wanted. I would go under the bed and cut out the figures from magazines to make my own dolls  There was a moment of peacefulness and meditative time that was ours. My grandmother and I had this space. She really set a good constitution in me for discipline and learning.”

EQ: What was your experience like at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 60s?

PR:  “I got through high school and graduated. I told my Mom I was going to college and she said, ‘You’re doing what? Mexican women don’t go to college.‘ But I got into SFAI because I had large portfolio of art. I was always painting, I didn’t know how, but I painted. So I got a scholarship and worked as a secretary at the college.

At the time, the teachers were really into the minimalist art scene coming out of New York. But I wanted to paint with a lot of color. I had one teacher who said, ‘ Well I see you’re trying to be Diego Rivera.’ And I looked at him and said ‘Who’s Diego Rivera?’. He said, ‘You don’t know who Diego Rivera is? Go up to library right now and look at his books.’ I left my paintings and went upstairs to the library. I opened up a book of Diego Rivera and I said this incredible. He’s political and he’s saying something about society. So I went back after two hours and class was over. I said to my professor, ‘Sir, I am Diego Rivera.’ The professor said, ‘ Good, you know who you are. That’s what matters.’”

EQ: How did Las Mujeres Muralistas form?

PR: “We were frustrated. Getting a scholarship to go to the finest art schools in California, I didn’t want to leave but the Civil Rights movement really shook things up. A lot of minorities left because of the prejudices, discrimination was really felt because we were coming in with our own set of ideas and ideas of art. Once the professors let me paint what I wanted to paint, there was only three Latinas left at the school. Graciela Carrillo, Consuelo Mendez and myself. Later on Irene Perez joined us. There was a lot of criticism of our work, always these little comments.. It effective us physically, emotionally, but we were trying to figure out how to stay because it was an opportunity to get our B.A.

I was already working in the community doing part-time jobs and I was at the Catholic Youth Organization when one of the priests said to me, ‘Hey you’re an artist. Do you want to do a mural in the hallway?’ He gave us the paint and he rented a scaffold.

It was a big job. So we opened it up to the guys. We invited Rene Yanez, Michael Rios, Tony Machado. The same guys who were already painting and said no to us when we wanted to paint with them. But we designed these trees and in between the trees was like a story, and the guys did things about Vietnam and drugs. We did things about children and art, being educated. It was a beautiful mural and that kicked up everyone to do more things. The guys got more commissions, we got more commissions and things took off right after that.”

EQ: What was it like creating a mural with a group of women for the first time?

PR: “Amazing. Like we were all tuned in the same station all at once. One of things we really emphasized was that we have to be a collective. A collective means that we agree. Nobody’s the boss. So we would agree on the design and divided it up. There was women who were much better in graphic and hard lines, that was Irene, and then Graciela was very beautiful in her paint and color. I had more of a mixture, Consuelo was very graphic. There was  a lot of different things that we could together.”

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Mujeres Muralistas

EQ: It was the first time women, particularly Chicana women, were painting murals in San Francisco, how did people react?

PR: “After the Catholic Youth Organization mural, Graciela and I said ‘You know if we’re going to be out there, we got to test the waters. What if we’re not able to hang?’ We had already finished that indoor mural and it was hard. So we started our first outdoor mural in Balmy Alley and there was an interesting phenomenon. The guys would come by and give us a hard time. ‘Give it up, you’re never going to finish. You know you can’t do it.’ And they were our friends, boyfriends, who we just invited to help us with our other mural. Women friends would come and say, ‘We could do that too’. They would start something and not finish. You had to be tough. You have to be able to hall buckets of paint up a scaffold and everything hurts but we were able to finish the mural. And we felt great.”

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Original Mural in Balmy Alley

EQ: You were painting in such an interesting time, how was the political atmosphere influencing your work?

PR: “The statements that we made were very feminine and we got a lot of criticism because we weren’t doing soldiers with guns, weren’t doing revolutionary figures. We were painting women.  Women in the marketplace, women breastfeeding, women doing art. People got really angry that we were doing that. ‘How could you do this when there’s so much going on?’ but we were saying that being a women is a revolution in society.

Before us there were some women who wanted to paint murals in Mexico. Diego Rivera came in and had them removed. We were the first group of women who had the freedom to go up on the scaffolding and paint what we pleased. We did some stuff about drugs but it was already being said. Everything was being repeated.

So, in the work we did, culture was emphasized and the best compliments came from our community. We were talking to our own community, our own families. Women would come and say ‘You know I’ve been here working in the hotels and cleaning houses all my life and nobody’s ever thought about us. Thank you for depicting our culture.’  That was the thank you we wanted.”

EQ: Did you feel that this work was healing for you and the women of your community?

PR: “Yes. It was a dream come true, I always wanted to be a painter and the murals opened up doors. At the same time, we were learning about ourselves and what it meant to be Mexican-American, that we came from a beautiful, developed society. For me, it was what I was meant to do. That was what the healing process was for me and I didn’t realize that then. We did it because we loved it but didn’t have any other understanding besides it made us feel good. Later on, I realized that art is healing.”

EQ: Do you think that things are shifting for female artists today?

PR: “What we did as trailblazers was cut out a road so that women can walk through it. Mainstream is still very limited. If you do research on the number of women in a major show, it’s only about 3-4. It’s not often you see an all women’s show in New York or in the mainstream.  A little later on a group of white feminists put together a show called “Whack” and asked me to participate. They invited me and then all of a sudden I heard nothing from them. I called and a women told me, ‘You’ve been wiped off the table.’ They were still only accepting that white feminist outlook, they haven’t evolved and didn’t recognize women of color. As women of color we still have to jump over a lot of hoops. To paint the murals or even just to go to school.”

EQ: Last question. Now when you walk down Balmy Alley it looks a lot different. What are your thoughts on the new aerosol work done by young people?

PR: “The alley is there for the young people to do what’s current. I don’t mind the spray art, I love it. But if I was teaching a mural class, I would focus on community. Who are the people in the community? What do they eat? What’s speaks to them? Kids need culture and social justice, because it’s a mural. It’s important to say something society and humans. Where we’re going and who we are. You have to speak to your audience, if you don’t, then it’s just graffiti.”

Thank you to Patricia Rodriquez for this amazing insight. Let us know your thoughts on female empowerment through art.

Much ❤

Eternal Queens

She Heals: A Dancer’s Story

How are women connecting their art to health? Eternal Queens explores through She Heals, a series focused on female artists discussing health, social issues and healing through art.

Kaley Isabella is an Oakland based dancer studying the Silvestre Technique. She uses dance to stay healthy mind, body and soul.

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Find Kaley Isabella at http://www.facebook.com/kaleyisabelladance

 

Mary Rockwood Lane: Artist, Healer, Visionary, Teacher, Goddess

Hi! Sam here. Just wanted to share a story that is deeply meaningful to me. I met Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD, RN, FAAN when I was about 20, and I was going through a really difficult time in my life dealing with the backlash of psychological and physical trauma that I had experienced in my adolescence, which MANY women do. She was my teacher in school, and her work really put me onto a path of using art as tool to heal my entire life from the inside out. I owe a lot to this woman, her fierce and unapologetic approach to life, her passion, her laughter, intellect and spirit really taught me unbounded lessons about freedom and self-love. Thank you, Mary, I love you! – Sam, EQ

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Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD, RN, FAAN, experienced art and healing first hand as she painted herself out of a severe depression during a divorce. She took what she learned from this experience and became the co-founder and co-director of the Arts in Medicine program at University of Florida, Gainesville.
Here she tells her story:

Mary’s story
Several years ago, I rediscovered the artist within and used art to heal myself. I was extremely ill at the time and going through a very difficult divorce. I was outraged, depressed and out of control. My support network had collapsed and everything was being taken away from me. Surrounded by my grief, I felt like I was drowning in darkness and despair. Therapy wasn’t helping. Finally my therapist said, “It’s time for you to do something different with your rage and your grief.”

I had always dreamed of being a painter but had never given myself permission to be one. “I’m just not good enough,” I would tell myself. But now my world was collapsing and the fear of inadequacy seemed trivial compared to my painful loss. I walked out of the therapist’s office and into the gray drizzle. Life seemed to be going on without me. Stopping before a large puddle, I stared down at my reflection in the murky water and imagined myself sinking into the mud. Just then a car came to a slow stop nearby. It was my friend Lee Ann, a painter. She rolled down her window and called out, “Why don’t I take you to breakfast and then over to my studio so that you can start painting?”

Sitting in her studio, I remembered how I had always wanted to be an artist. This was a part of me that I had never acknowledged or honored. Right then, in a lucid moment, I decided to abandon all my fears of being a painter. Although I didn’t even know how to hold a paintbrush, I selected a large piece of canvas to work on. Flipping though several magazines for ideas, I came across a picture of a woman who was broken and distorted. What a familiar feeling! And so I started painting.

I became excited with the sheer process of painting: the colors of paint, the textures, and the way different shapes swirled together on canvas. The painting began to transform into an image of my pain and hurt. I forgot about how I felt and instead painted those feelings. I worked feverishly, releasing my energy passionately onto canvas.

Making no attempt to define myself or my process, I began a series of self-portraits. They were all distorted in the beginning, with garish backgrounds. But I was too absorbed in the pure expression and gesture of painting to let that bother me. I called my first self-portrait Cut Out My Heart. It was my pain, a deeply intense and dying pain. The figure was broken, distorted, crumpled, crying, and bleeding. This figure had been my despair, my uncensored and purely emotional energy. When I finished releasing the image onto canvas, I stepped back and gasped! What I saw was an aspect of myself that I couldn’t face; it was so ugly! I had let go on an intense emotional and physical level. I backed away, left the studio and went home.

When I returned, I had an incredible insight. I saw that the painting had captured genuine expression from a moment of time that was now behind me. I had moved past it. I was actually witnessing my own transformation! Throughout the series of self-portraits, I continuously struggled with form and perspective. Metaphorically I was recreating my inner form and inner perspective. The external creative process mirrored my inner world. The manifestation of movement and change was powerful and it was a process of knowing myself.

As I immersed myself in painting, I not only became well, but clearly became the artist I had always wanted to be. I remember the moment that I truly felt empowered as an artist. I experienced a sudden shift and encountered something within that was healing. There was an aspect of me that rejuvenated my spirit and I began to feel stronger and more alive. By seeing my pain on canvas, I could step away from it.

I was the artist; my pain was the art. And I was free.

From her website, Maryrockwoodlane.com