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S.F. bus stop art takes us back in history

September 5, 2013
originally posted by SF Gate

At one end of the bus shelter on Market Street is a Muni map that is impossible to decipher. At the other end of the bus shelter on Market Street is a poster that is more impossible to decipher than the Muni map.

Mesmerizing from afar and dizzying up close, the poster looks like a kaleidoscope or the pattern of a wedding ring quilt. But in the detail is a montage of black and white pictures from the Alcatraz occupation of the 1960s, offset by color pictures of the Occupy San Francisco movement of this decade.

Get hooked into that and you will miss your bus no matter which way you are going.

The poster, titled “Occupy,” is one of six designs using online news images that have been cut and pasted into a street show called “Celebrating Bay Area Activism.”

Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, each set of six posters appears in six places, one per stop at 36 bus kiosks on both sides of Market, between Eighth and Hyde streets and the Embarcadero. The series connects 50 years of uprisings – the Vietnam War, the Free Speech Movement, civil rights, gay rights and Earth Day.

“The overarching concept is representing conflict and war and how that is shown in imagery here, where there is no war on the ground,” says the artist, Sanaz Mazinani, who is familiar with war on the ground. She was born in Tehran in 1978, one year before the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, which was followed by revolution and war.

“I’d go to school and there would be sirens and the Iraqis would be bombing Iran,” Mazinani says. “We’d all get under desks and watch the little bombs falling out.”

She was 11 when her family fled Tehran for Windsor, Ontario, going from a city of 12 million to one of 200,000. She got involved in student revolts while in art school in Toronto, then came to Stanford University in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree in art practice.

“When I moved here I realized that the Bay Area has this incredible history of activism that I wasn’t aware of,” says Mazinani, who had her first art subject for her first day of class. A tour of Alcatraz was all it took. “I didn’t know this stuff so I wanted to do a project really looking at the history of the political actions here.”

Now 35, Mazinani lives in Bernal Heights and did her research for the posters at the public library, uncovering historic pictures and scanning them. Once inside her laptop they could be manipulated into the final form. In any of the six panels there may only be two photographs, multiplied and mirrored, cropped and shaped.

“I want the images to repeat as a rant on the media and how we get bombarded by the same images over and over again,” she says.

The detail is in extremely small form, the message murky. A magnifying glass helps. The captions are essential for clarity. Under the poster titled “Anti-War” reads the description:

“This pattern combines historic photographs of anti-Vietnam War protests in San Francisco from the 1960s with recent photographs of demonstrations throughout the city, during which citizens expressed opposition to the Iraq War and, more recently, the use of drone warfare worldwide.”

That ought to get you through the next bus arrival, but if the bus is way late, a QR code on each poster links smart phones to a website ( with more history and source images.

The topics are political, but Mazinani maintains that she is not.

“I’m not anti-anything,” she says. “I am fascinated with photographs and online images.”

Celebrating Bay Area Activism:
The free installation runs through Oct. 4, on Muni bus shelters along Market Street, between Eighth Street and the Embarcadero.

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