A mural stood at 10th and Pine in the Lower Bottoms of West Oakland. The mural depicted the history, desires, and the presence of those who created it. A tag bomber hit that mural. He was confronted and advised to leave on two separate late-night forays. He returned and totally obliterated large sections of the mural.

Local artists including Rtystk, Troy Massey, Eesuu Orundie and others, are restoring the mural. It is a labor of love that acknowledges the possibility of it being tag-bombed again and the fact that the property is for sale, which makes it a temporary site at best. So, why restore it at all?

It is resistance to being overwritten. It is an act of stewardship. Something beautiful was destroyed. It was created as a projection of dreams and a marker of space and time. We were here and our story matters. Who will tell it if we don’t honor it ourselves?

Street art is ephemeral. Work pops up and then it’s gone. The fleetingness of it captures my imagination, and makes me curious about the artists and their intentions. I have a collection of photographs depicting some of the beautiful murals on buildings in Oakland. There is a difference between street art and vandalism. Perhaps the cleanest delineation is between those who use paint with permission and those who do not. It’s a place to start, but I can’t deny that I have seen some really fine work done by stealthy artists under the cover of darkness sans permission. Perhaps a further consideration is whether it beautifies or disrespects what is already there. There are rules that govern tagging over work. Public art is inherently political.

Golden State Warrior is a street artist whose unabashedly political portraits appear out of nowhere all over Oakland. His work is often painted over almost as soon as it is completed. Temporality and politics is a factor in all public art. Refa One’s Malcolm X mural at San Francisco State was painted over and sandblasted because of its perceived political translation. It was restored two years later with negotiated content. That deserves a separate article. Suffice it to say that murals are less temporary in intention.

Art is a conversation, creative works are always talking, and the conversation is between the artist and those who encounter the art. Art wants you to feel, think, disagree or agree with something. Some public art offerings are subtle, some loud, others complex, but in all cases, the artist is communicating from his choice in form and content to the canvas he chooses.

The number of North American African murals across America are visual repositories of history, markers of events and people that bear noting—and remembering. They are in fact a visual form of memory. Robin Prigoff and James Duntz, authors of “Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals,” have documented over 200 urban murals around the country. They are sources of pride, markers of identity, and a visual reminder that the creators, and those depicted, have contributed to the building and flourishing of America. They say, “We were here.”

The present often writes over the past. It is seen as inevitable. What was fades into what is, and then the process repeats. The phenomenon is often referred to as progress. It’s hard for me to place the tag bomber in this context. What happens when progress overwrites history and the present is not ready to forget what is, even when its continued existence is as improbable as progress is inevitable? Some repositories of history die easier than others. We want you to remember. We were here.

Contact Ayodele Nzinga at Wordslanger@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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