Lovers of public art, rejoice: new murals have been popping up across Berkeley this spring, bringing a fresh coat of color to alleys, fences, and a previously gray bagel factory.
They include “Sinbad Voyage,” a One Thousand and One Nights-inspired boat scene and “In this Place (An American Lyric),” a mosaic highlighting Amanda Gorman’s poetry.
Here’s our guide to the newest additions to Berkeley’s vibrant art scene.
And more are coming: details are still slim, but another mural by three young artists, mentored by Cece Carpio, will be unveiled at La Peña Cultural Center during an art exhibition on May 25.
Have you seen any other new murals around town? Let us know in the comments. And if you like art — and the arts — you’ll want to sign up to our brand new, free weekly culture and events newsletter, The Scene.
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On Wednesday, Berkeley artist Mokhtar Paki added the final touches to his intricate mural on the northeast corner of Dwight Way and Sacramento Street. He’d been painting the mural since January, though on and off due to the stormy weather.
Paki, an Iranian immigrant, said the artwork, which aims to highlight the resilience of immigrants, was inspired by the mass migration from North Africa and the Middle East that started in 2016, and the violent response toward refugees and asylum seekers.
The title, “Sinbad Voyage,” comes from one of the tales in One Thousand and One Nights, in which the hero, Sinbad the Sailor, travels throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Asian territories in search of happiness.
His mural depicts around 400 people packed tightly into a boat. About 100 of the faces are visible and painted in detail — based on real immigrants, many of whom are now living in California, including roughly a dozen from Berkeley (some of whom he spotted on the street). He also included the face of his own niece, Sanaz, who had tried to escape Iran through the Persian Gulf and drowned at age 5.
“There are so many reasons to be in that boat, to be immigrants,” Paki said, noting the oppression of LGBTQ+ communities and women. “This is a story of me and what I see and so my Sinbad Voyage is [a] mythological move, but at the same time, it’s very real … It is happening right now, in the border of most of the countries.”
Paki said the artwork, while first conceived as a smaller canvas painting in 2017, is particularly timely now amid the ending of Title 42, the COVID-19 restrictions on asylum that started in 2020 and allowed the U.S. government to turn back immigrants at the Mexico-U.S. border.
Paki said he hopes his artwork will encourage people to be more accepting of immigrants, who put themselves in danger in the hopes of securing a safer, better future, and to recognize the beauty of diversity in the U.S. instead of seeing it as a problem.
“The future is going to be more colorful than what it is, so we cannot stop it,” Paki said.
Dwight Way and Sacramento Street, Berkeley
In West Berkeley’s Jeronimus Alley, Chilean-born Oakland artist Pancho Pescador collaborated with seven youth artists from the nonprofit Youth Spirit Artworks on the work, which highlights the Chochenyo Ohlone people, the original stewards of the land that is now Berkeley, alongside animals native to the region — a coyote, hummingbird, heron, crow, quail, deer and more.
Join the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association for the Jeronimus Alley mural’s dedication event, which will be followed by an art walk.
Saturday, May 13, 10-11 a.m., Cedar and Fifth 1/2 Street
They hope to honor the “interconnectivity among all beings and the relationship among humans and nature,” Pescador wrote in an email, and “create beauty, discussion and community pride through color, image and culture in neglected spaces.”
“This mural was an opportunity to make some personal research and keep learning and supporting the actual struggles of land and federal recognition that face the Ohlone people here in the bay,” Pescador wrote, noting that the depictions of Ohlone people are based on pictures he had taken during a public dance ceremony in San Francisco.” The mural was funded by Commotion West Berkeley and sponsored by Berkeley Path Wanderers Association and Youth Spirit Artworks.
Cedar Street and Fifth ½ Street, Berkeley
In this Place (An American Lyric)
Decorating the Logan Park building (on the stretch of Durant Street between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street) is a mosaic-glass mural highlighting Amanda Gorman’s “In This Place (An American Lyric).” Gorman, the United States’ inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate, became the youngest poet ever to deliver a work at a presidential inauguration in January 2021.
The mural, constructed over the course of two weeks in April, is a collaboration between Mosaika, an art studio in Montreal that specializes in mosaics, Bay Area arts curator Karen Eichler, and Gorman, who approved their use of her 98-line, single-stanza poem.
“The City of Berkeley is rich with great public art and the diversity of the community (in its many, many forms) allows us to think about how diversity in public art can provide entry points for the community,” Eichler wrote in an email. “I hope the words that Amanda wrote … and the beauty of the mosaic mural, will connect with people within the community of Berkeley.
Eichler had originally hoped to use Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” the poem she delivered at President Biden’s inauguration, as she believed it to be an influential work that had elevated the idea of poetry as an art form, but that request was declined. Gorman’s literary team worked with her to select another, more fitting poem — one that would honor the role of free speech and the spoken word in civic and student life in Berkeley.
“In This Place (An American Lyric),” which she delivered at the Library of Congress, fit the bill. The full poem is emblazoned on the wall, and includes this section relevant to Berkeley:
There’s a lyric in California
where thousands of students march for blocks,
undocumented and unafraid;
where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom
in deadlock, her spirit the bedrock of her community.
2050 Durant Ave., Berkeley
Boichik Bagel Factory mural
Berkeley muralist and illustrator Nigel Sussman’s latest project, a giant mural on the walls of Boichik Bagel’s new West Berkeley factory, is also his second-largest yet (the largest is located in a parking garage in Los Angeles).
Once he and Boichik Bagels founder Emily Winston (a former engineer) agreed on a small swatch establishing the mural’s blue palette and industrial theme, Sussman began painting directly on the walls.
Sussman, who has also designed merchandise for Berkeleyside, a trash corral for Telegraph Avenue’s business association, and many other artworks across the city, said he found inspiration for this project from computer games like SimCity and The Incredible Machine, and that he drew upon the aesthetic of Rube Goldberg machines.
While the mural evokes the machinery inside the bagel factory, Sussman took many artistic liberties, putting in pipes and tubes here and there to fill the space. “It has an organic feel to it, because I’m not looking at any reference,” Sussman said. “I’m just making it up as I go.”
“What makes me feel like I’ve done my job is when somebody says that they saw the mural and it made them smile or made them happy or something to that effect,” Sussman said. “Prior to there being a mural, it was just a very brutalist style, big box of a building in that district that could be sort of intimidating.”
One underrated side perk of making art for a bagel factory is getting to try many of the bagels on the Boichik menu. Sussman recommends the pumpernickel.
1225 Sixth St., Berkeley