Local artist Phillip Hua’s latest exhibit speaks to two ideals long-embraced by San Franciscans: inclusion and unity. What’s unique about Hua’s latest gallery showing, though, is that you can only see it on Muni buses.
Hua’s new exhibit, We are San Francisco: Unified Portraits of a Divided San Francisco, is part of Muni Art, an innovative artistic adventure between San Francisco Beautiful and the SFMTA that places local art in unusual places — in this case on 50 Muni buses.
Bay Area artists were asked to submit entries that reflected their artistic concept of “the spirit of San Francisco.” Through an online voting campaign, Hua’s entry, along with those of fellow artists Ariel Dunitz-Johnson, Reynaldo R. Cayeteno Jr., Andria Lo and Todd Berman, were chosen from 10 finalists. The five winning artists now have their work showcased inside 10 Muni buses each through the end of the year.
Hua’s work melds traditional and modern processes that include painting, photography, digital media and printing. We are San Francisco: Unified Portraits of a Divided San Francisco speaks to one of the city’s hot button issues: the growing economic divide and gentrification in the current tech boom.
“I wanted my message to be that we are all San Franciscans, and there’s no such thing as people who don’t belong here,” Hua said, noting that his family immigrated to the Bay Area from Vietnam in the mid ‘70s. “Everyone who has come here has come from somewhere else. It’s a constant wave of change that’s happening. It’s the cycle of an evolving city and culture.”
Hua’s portraits feature bisected headshots that merge the faces of plumbers with bankers, techies with tattoo artists and retired administrators with painters. His perspective comes from a unique vantage point. As an artist, he’s saddened by fellow members of the city’s creative community displaced because they can no longer afford to live in San Francisco.
But he’s quick to not lay blame on the tech community and feels that anger towards them has been misplaced. Hua says his husband, a tech sector employee, has given him a more balanced perspective.
“I’ve met lots of people in tech who were not these caricatures who were being depicted through the community,” Hua said. “They’re not these drones who have come into the city with zero culture and zero class and are just a parasite on San Francisco.”
Just as Muni is a system that connects neighborhoods, Hua said, the portraits are a way to connect — literally and figuratively — the rich cultural diversity of the city.
“It’s a way for me to urge unity through turbulent times.”
Hua is optimistic that the Muni Art installations will start a larger conversation about more art in public places, especially in San Francisco, with its overflowing creative community. Hua suggests that gentrification has actually led to a lot of things being cleaned up and beautified in the city, often times with art.
“What you’re seeing in San Francisco is that people really want more art. I think that really aligns with the goal of SF Beautiful and the [Muni Art] project.”
One of the project’s goals is to spread the Muni Art buses throughout the city so as many riders as possible will have to the opportunity to experience these moving art galleries. Each of the installations will travel along different routes over the next three months.
You won’t see the artwork until you board the bus, so if you’re lucky enough to catch one, make sure you share the experience by using the hashtag #SFMuniArt.
Interior car card panels from Hua’s We are San Francisco: Unified Portraits of a Divided San Francisco: (Photo courtesy of Phillip Hua)