¡VIVA! A Celebration of Latinx Cultures and Traditions

"Nopal de la Mision" Watercolor design for new public art work for the Mission branch

San Francisco has a rich Latinx heritage that is highlighted in a diverse array of exciting programs for all ages, from Spanish/bilingual storytimes, to author talks, to art and cultural presentations. Come enjoy with us. ¡Bienvenidos! 

About the Artist: Juana Alicia Araiza

The Library is thrilled to work with Juana Alicia Araiza (commonly known as Juana Alicia), one of the City’s most prolific muralists and arts educators. Nopal de la Misión, her watercolor design for a glass mural that will be a highlight of the Mission Branch Library renovation, is featured in this year’s iVIVA! campaign.

 Juana Alicia has created murals and worked as a printmaker, sculptor, illustrator and studio painter for more than 30 years. Her style, akin to genres of contemporary Latin American literary movements, can be characterized as magical and social realism, and her work addresses issues of social justice, gender equality, environmental crisis and the power of resistance and revolution. 

Born in 1953, Juana Alicia was shaped by many rich cultural influences growing up in Detroit, near Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. Her sculptural and painted public commissions (individual and collaborative) can be seen in Nicaragua, Mexico, Pennsylvania and in many parts of California, most notably in San Francisco. They include Sanarte at U.C.S.F. Medical Center, Santuario (with Emmanuel C. Montoya) at the San Francisco International Airport, La Llorona's Sacred Waters at 24th and York streets in the Mission, the Maestrapeace mural of the San Francisco Women’s Building and the Gemelos mural at the Metropolitan Technical University in Mérida, Mexico.

Learn more about Juana Alicia at juanaalicia.com. Catch her solo show, Me Llaman Calle: The Monumental Art of Juana Alicia, at the SFAC Main Gallery. Info at sfartscommission.org.


Photo credit: Alexa Treviño



Who or what set you on the path to becoming an artist?

There were several people that set me on my path: my mother, who encouraged me in all my creative efforts; my godmother, Dr. Cledie Collins Taylor, art historian, gallerist and jeweler who has mentored me since high school to become an artist; my brother, who pushed me to embrace my talents and develop a sense of self-respect; and Diego Rivera, who’s murals I grew up with in downtown Detroit. These four people were the inspirational and sustaining forces that validated my passion to develop my ideas and abilities.

What tools do you use to create your art?

Technically speaking, the creative tools I work with are most importantly pencil and sketchbook, all types of drawing media, acrylic, oil, watercolor and fresco pigments, clay, glass and whatever else I can get my hands on. However, the most important tools are the intellect, the compassionate heart, the hands, and a strong connection to community. To inform all these tools, we need to read, to discuss, to debate, to reflect, to internalize and reinterpret the ideas that we absorb from literature, journalism, and non-fiction.

How have libraries played a role in your life?

When I was a child, my maternal grandmother would take us to the library after school several times a week. She herself, who did not have much formal education, was a voracious reader. The neighborhood library was a central fixture in our lives, and on our occasional bus trips to Detroit’s main library, I marveled at this architectural gem, sporting several murals (including a beautiful mosaic by California artist Millard Sheets) and the phrase Knowledge is Power above the entrance. Like the Mission Branch and the original Main Library buildings in San Francisco, its construction was funded by Andrew Carnegie, philanthropist, and one of America’s richest industrialists who gave away 90% of his wealth, much of it to libraries.

What kinds of stories do you seek to tell in your art?

I do not need to seek stories for my narrative work, as they surround me and speak impactfully to me all the time. What I must do is select, edit and develop those stories through the lens of our times and our environment. The stories that inspire me announce themselves in the form of literature, poetry, current events, tableaux seen on city streets, the landscape itself, dreams, and nightmares. In my public murals, they arise as bridges between the deepest challenges and the highest values of the communities they inhabit. I am interested in making images that inspire the audience to think and to act, to analyze and read.

Where do you find the greatest inspiration to spark creativity and your imagination?

I must say that the greatest inspirations for my creativity lie in the written and oral narratives of communities, and in poetry and in music, both in lyric and sound. If I were to lose my sight, I would work as a musician or a writer.

Another tremendous motivation to create is the environmental existential crisis that we are facing, and the need to speak to this as an artist. Two of my public murals that speak directly to the contamination of water, and resistance to ecological destruction are La Llorona’s Sacred Waters (24th and York Streets, San Francisco Mission District) and The Spill • El Derrame (Emerson and Adeline, Berkeley, near Ashby BART). I feel compelled to create works that call attention to the importance social action on behalf of the planet and all living forms, as well as the importance of celebrating the magnificent diversity and beauty of life on earth.