San Francisco artist and muralist Sirron Norris has launched a fundraising campaign to redo his first-ever mural – a surreal cityscape intertwined with cartoon characters and machines – to be replaced with one that reflects the city’s current struggles with inequality and police brutality.
He wants the “makeover” to reflect and connect to the city’s “current political landscape.” It will be called “The Disruption,” a reference to the goal of many tech applications that seek to disrupt a traditional market.
The old mural of a combination of San Francisco landmarks, buildings, humans, animals and futuristic machines, was painted some 16 years ago on the Bryant Street side of Norm’s Market at the corner of 20th and Bryant streets.
In the mural’s new design, Norris’ signature blue bear cartoon character is pictured eating a burrito and wearing a red jacket, surrounded by seemingly frightened white neighbors. The scene was inspired by the March trial of the four San Francisco police officers who shot and killed Alex Nieto, a security guard armed with a taser while eating a Burrito on top of Bernal Hill in 2014.
“Somebody died and it impacted our community in a major way,” said Norris, adding that he followed the case closely. “By using cartoons, I am able to shed light on this without turning people off right away. It’s how I translate these dark experiences.”
The 1999 gray and brown mural was originally made with “house paint” and served as a satirical commentary on the city’s encroaching tech sector during the first dot.com boom. Painted in Norris’ now widely-recognized style – a provocative play on cartoon cliches – the “colorless” mural stood in stark contrast to the Mission’s traditionally vibrant murals. Norris then called it an “‘anti-mural.’”
“The idea was to make that mural for this new gentrifying community that was coming in here,” said the artist, playing on the irony of being a Mission newcomer and a “gentrifying artist.” He targeted undesirable walls and public spaces as the neighborhood underwent its early rounds of gentrification.
Having weathered two major tech booms Norris said the mural, as well as its message, was in need of an update. He plans to add color and to document the city’s recent history in order to make the mural “relevant again.”
Earlier this month, the artist initiated a $5,000 Indiegogo campaign to pay for the renovation of the mural. As of Tuesday, Norris had raised $950 to pay for paint, supplies and to cover the stipends of local youth artists to help with the project. He plans to begin the project in September regardless of whether he reaches his goal.
“I’ve been here long enough and I’m now educated enough that I feel it’s my responsibility to tell the city’s story in my own way,” said Norris who moved to San Francisco from Ohio in 1997. “I was an outsider too at one point. We all are. But it’s about what you do to uplift your community once you find out where you’re at and what the story is.”
The Mission’s story, said Norris, cannot be told without a commentary on the citywide struggles of inequality, homelessness, and police brutality. The developments have inspired the commercial artist to mull over his own responsibility in contributing to the city’s culture.
Vignettes illustrating incidents of discrimination, the rise of tech and the ousting of the city’s police chief laid the framework for the proposed new mural.
Using the image of a slumped-over pig with five tents pitched on its back, Norris makes reference to the “Frisco Five,” a group of activists who staged a 17-day hunger strike in response to a series of police shootings that killed Black, Latino, and homeless community members. Their effort spearheaded a movement amid racial tensions that resulted in the resignation of then-police chief, Greg Suhr.
Norris said that over the past year, the mural’s design was “living progress” as he watched tragedy unfold in his community.
“I came from a lot of racism, and I moved to San Francisco to avoid that,” he said, adding that the recent violence has left him “kind of heartbroken” and is a result of the city’s economic inequality.
“There’s a reality that [newcomers] are prejudging this community when these people have been here forever,” said Norris.
Still, the artist said he is empathic. “They come from an environment where that’s not their everyday experiences to interact with urban youth, Black people or Latinos. Even though we try to gloss it up, it’s still the city underneath it all.”
The mural, said Norris, is his way of contributing to the community’s collective healing. By asking for campaign donors, he believes that he is extending the opportunity to help to others.
“I understand the irony of asking a tech community to fund something that blatantly makes fun of them, but they are ultimately the ones who will be receiving Indiegogo emails,” said Norris. “ There’s irony in art. And in a lot of ways, it’s almost like an acknowledgement that they are contributing to what’s going on here.”