This past week on June 25th 2019, the San Francisco School board voted to paint over an 83 year old fresco, a mural that depicts the life of George Washington in a San Francisco high school named for the first president of the USA.
In this audio podcast we not only discuss the destruction of the murals and what that means culturally and historically but in a much broader context of how it destroys the way we think, act and exist now and in the future. The murals were painted by leftist artist, Victor Arnautoff in a time that saw the rise in socialist thought and leftist action: politically, socially and economically.
The current critique of these murals and the reason they are being destroyed is a cynical coopting of what the artist intended into a reinterpretation of false equivalence: that the historical depiction of exploitation and genocide is in fact racist and not appropriate in a high school.
It’s important to understand that the critics of these murals and those who wish to have them destroyed are purposely confusing the fact that the murals depict and criticize the genocide of Native Americans as well as the exploitation of African Americans with the idea that they’re a celebration of genocide and exploitation in American history.
They are covertly and incorrectly linking the intentional placement of statues of Confederate generals on southern university campuses that celebrate racism, if not the outright enslavement of African Americans with a mural that contains a leftist critique of the founding of the US, simply because of what it depicts.
In other words, the subject of how this country was actually founded makes our students feel uncomfortable and disempowered, so we have to remove them so that they don’t realize that what we teach as American history is actually a lie.
What this mural is really saying is that George Washington did own slaves and did become wealthy by selling land that wasn’t his own to sell. His theft of native American lands was a precursor to the genocide that was to follow. Arnautoff may have mixed more flattering myths and imagery about and of Washington along with the more truthful content but that’s often the way artists have to work in order to get their art in front of the public. The murals of this era have always been controversial and this is yet another example of the power of art.
Listen to: Whitewashing History
We take some information from and mention a couple books:
Depression-Era Murals of the Bay Area by Nicolas A. Veronica, Gina F. Morello, Brett A. Casadonte and Gilda Collins Arcadia Publishing
Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin by Gray Brechin University of California Press
We also mention a video we recorded about the frescos at the Beach Chalet in San Francisco: