When Juana Alicia Araiza set about painting the “Para Las Rosas” mural in 1984, she worked alone, transferring the pattern to the wall of the SF Mime Troupe’s headquarters at 855 Treat Ave. herself, and then painstakingly realizing her vision over the course of nine months.
“The neighbors and the Mime Troupe musicians were my greatest supporters, but at the time I had a very small circle of other artists, mostly women, supporting me,” Araiza said earlier this month at a small celebration with fellow artists, neighbors and supporters.
Forty years later, the mural restoration project is a testament to Araiza’s career and the concentric circles of support she has built. This time around, the muralist had many fellow artists to call on: Meera Desai, her collaborator on the Women’s Building’s MaestraPeace mural (2000), and collectives such as Trust Your Struggle, Few and Far Women, Creatives After Curfew and Community Rejuvenation Project. Former students like Muralist Nadya Voynovskaya, who met Araiza 11 years ago at Berkeley City College, also contributed to the mural’s restoration.
“Not only was it more joyous and rich to have all of these painters contribute, it made the work possible to achieve in four months,” Araiza said.
The building at 855 Treat Ave. has nurtured the Mission District arts scene for decades. It has been the home of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the radical performance arts collective, since 1965. Earlier, it housed the legendary independent label Fantasy Records, where musical giants like Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Vince Guaraldi once recorded and rehearsed.
Since 1985, Araiza’s mural has called attention to this confluence of artistic ingenuity, political radicalism, and community organization. But decades of weather beating, “tagging,” and general wear left the mural in faded disrepair. Following a successful campaign earlier this year to fund a restoration of the iconic Mission mural, the completed project has brought this building’s history back into the public view.
Mission characters, global figures, and new additions
Araiz’s “Para Las Rosas” is an expansive tribute to the actors, musicians, playwrights, and activists that have contributed to the Mime Troupe’s enduring legacy. The face of Ellen Callas, the Troupe’s general manager, marks a new addition to the mural, one of many storied Troupe members whose presence contributes to the contemporary significance of “Para Las Rosas.”
Keiko Carreiro, a member of the collective, is another new face on the wall, as well as members of Araiz’s own family and updated portraits of neighbors and friends. Esteemed Mission District artist and public intellectual Yolanda López, who died in 2021, beams down from the wall in a testament to the artists and local organizers who devoted decades to cultivating the flourishing Mission District arts scene.
Nestled among family members, friends, and Mission legends are more familiar public faces. Comedian Lenny Bruce, one of many performing arts icons who recorded at 855 Treat Ave., is depicted as the harlequin of the scene. Frida Kahlo’s unmistakable visage peeks out from an audience of Mission community members.
“When I first painted here in 1985, Frida was barely garnering recognition, and the Galería de la Raza had just hosted the first show about her in the United States,” Araiza said.
The colorful scenes across the wall are tied together by the San Francisco cityscape and several red flood lights that form a large red star, the symbol of the SF Mime Troupe, as well as a universal symbol of socialist liberation.
The restored mural also encourages reflection on the issues of police and gun violence in the Mission and around the world, introducing roses in the rifle barrels of several armed characters from mime troupe plays that deal with colonialism, slavery, and armed liberation: “Last Tango in Huehuetenango” and “Nos Engañaron (False Promises).”
The mural celebrates indigenous rights and the resistance of enslaved people, but it also has a local angle and message. “We also experience much violence in these struggles, and in our neighborhoods, I sought to shift the message to one of peace, and wanted to project a vision for resolving human conflict through peaceful means.”
Araiza notes that as the mural was reaching completion, it was children that first noticed the roses in the rifles.
Araiza’s Mission murals include not only her work on the Women’s Building, but “La Llorona’s Sacred Waters” (2004) on York Street at 24th Street, “From Incarceration to Liberation” (2018) at San Francisco State University, and “Alto Al Fuego” (1988), once on Mission Street at 21st Street.
In Araiz’s own words, “the ‘Para Las Rosas’ mural has become a new love letter to the Mission, rejoicing in its cultural flowering that just doesn’t quit!”
Stroll by 855 Treat Ave. on a sunny afternoon for a Mission District history lesson, or to simply stop and smell the roses.