Defaced queer mural to be restored during Mission district protest Friday

  • Thursday October 19, 2023
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Artist Juan Manuel Carmona's mural of drag artist Juanita MORE! on a utility box, left, was defaced and covered with brown paint. Photo: Courtesy Juanita MORE!
Artist Juan Manuel Carmona's mural of drag artist Juanita MORE! on a utility box, left, was defaced and covered with brown paint. Photo: Courtesy Juanita MORE!

A protest against homophobia is set for Friday morning in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood after a mural of a prominent drag artist was destroyed and its painter reportedly threatened.

The protest will be at the southeast corner of Valencia Street and 22nd Street at 11 a.m. October 20.

Juan Manuel Carmona, a queer man who, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, was one of the duo behind the former 'Queeroes' mural at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center in 2021, recently painted a mural featuring drag artist Juanita MORE! on a utility box at the intersection of 22nd and Valencia streets. (The LGBT center mural also featured MORE!, along with other LGBTQ heroes.)

"It was a testament to the intersection of my Latino heritage and LGBTQ+ communities titled 'Forever Drag,'" Carmona stated in an open letter about the utility box art. Carmona did not return a request for an interview.

Carmona painted the mural in late September as part of a public art project organized by Paint the Void and the Civic Joy Fund "that brought artists together to paint utility boxes throughout the city and help beautify San Francisco." The project was approved by the San Francisco Arts Commission, with all the required permits, Carmona stated.

Manny Yekutiel, co-founder of the Civic Joy Fund, stated to the B.A.R. that he is "so proud of the Paint in the City project and sad that Manuel's box was defaced."

"I'm seeing it as an opportunity to celebrate queer Latinx art even more, which is fun," he continued. "We are funding even more art from Manuel in the Mission."

Paint the Void did not immediately return requests for comment.

The piece was a tribute to MORE! "and her 30+ years of impactful activism in our beloved San Francisco," Carmona stated. However, it did not last long.

"Within 48 hours, someone defaced my artwork by completely covering it in brown paint," he stated. "As part of my contractual obligations, I returned to restore the original artwork with an anti-graffiti coat and great determination to reclaim the space for Latinx art and Queer expression."

While Carmona was restoring the mural on October 6, he said that a man came up to him and "vehemently objected to the artwork."

"He exclaimed that instead of representing the LGBTQ+ community, I should dedicate it to activist and leader Cesar Chavez," Carmona stated, referring to the late co-founder of the United Farm Workers. "He persisted in defacing my artwork while also threatening physical violence, at which point I had no recourse but to contact the police. Ultimately, the utility box's artwork was destroyed again."

The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

MORE! told the B.A.R., "It's unacceptable that someone would go out of their way to destroy someone else's art."

"Even worse was that when Manuel tried to restore it, the perpetrator returned to threaten him and continue the destruction," MORE! stated. "Unfortunately, even in San Francisco, discrimination and intolerance still exist, and we need to work towards creating a more inclusive and accepting community."

MORE! stated that she enjoys seeing Paint the Void and Civic Joy Fund murals around the city "while walking my dogs, Jackson and Macho."

"We saw artists bringing their artistic vision to life," she stated. "I'm a big supporter of beautifying San Francisco and promoting the work of local artists."

Carmona will be restoring the mural yet again as the protest takes place, MORE! stated.

Everyone is invited to wear pink "in support and celebration of San Francisco's creatives who make our city and county a vibrant and inclusive beacon for all," according to an email blast from MORE!

In his statement, Carmona wished to "extend my heartfelt gratitude to those who have already expressed their support and solidarity during this challenging time. Your encouragement fuels my perseverance in continuing my artistic journey and fighting for a more inclusive San Francisco."

He added that he's "determined to repaint the utility box."

Galería de la Raza, a nonprofit artist collective based in the Mission, stated, "this is not the first time we have witnessed homophobic and transphobic attacks of the Queer Latinx community."

"We stand with Juan Manuel Carmona and will not tolerate this behavior or treatment of any member of our community," the nonprofit stated. "May this serve as a reminder that art is a tool for liberation.

"Community and public art are opportunities to amplify ideas and experiences, and as such, these community educational tools must be protected and are our First Amendment right," the collective continued. "We can agree to disagree, yet when violence is enacted, we draw a line and will not tolerate this type of censorship or erasure."

Honey Mahogany, the first trans and Black chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, is anticipated to be among the speakers.

"The destruction of this artwork is extremely sad and wrong," Mahogany, who serves as district director for Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), stated to the B.A.R. "It was an act of violence against the artist and against our community and we will not stand for it."

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission on the city's Board of Supervisors, stated to the B.A.R., "I celebrate the art of Juan Manuel Carmona and appreciate the Mission community for standing up to hate and homophobia behind the defacement of his art."

The rally and mural repainting will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

Updated, 10/19/23: This article has been updated with comments from Supervisor Hillary Ronen.

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