Arts & Life

Gina Hernandez-Clarke ’89 explains murals and art activism on campus

April 10, 2022, 9:02 p.m.

During her time as the Casa Zapata Resident Fellow, Gina Hernandez-Clarke became interested in the 30-year history behind the countless murals in the dorm and elsewhere on campus. Aside from adding to the “diverse and vibrant community” on campus, murals are also an “artistic gesture of protest,” Hernandez-Clarke said.

Hernandez-Clarke spoke about the murals at a lecture that was part of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity’s (CCSRE) 17th Annual Anne and Loren Kieve Distinguished lecture events, which is sponsored by the CSRE and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts. By guiding the audience through a couple of murals on campus, Hernandez-Clarke shared her knowledge of the art’s history. 

“The Spirit of Hoover” is a mural located on the first floor of Casa Zapata. As explained by Hernandez-Clarke, the student-driven mural was supported by Jose Antonio Burciaga, the Casa Zapata Resident Fellow at the time, and created to spark a conversation around “the student lack of engagement on issues on campus and beyond.” 

Mural, upper right corner painting of military, police, wolves over the south african activists. There are coins flowing down towards a piggy bank, the mouth of piggy bank holds onto a rope that is pulling down the hoover tower, which is off the image to the left. on the lower left corner are stanford activists back in the day. The base of the wall has names.
“The Spirit of Hoover” left side panel at Casa Zapata (Photo: XIMENA SANCHEZ MARTINEZ/The Stanford Daily). 

Different parts of the piece touch on various political issues of the time. The left panel of the mural alludes to efforts by student activists to get Stanford to divest from apartheid. The panel shows aggressive armed police officers with weapons and South African people protesting and pulling on the ropes attached to Hoover Tower. Hernandez-Clarke explained that the ropes pulling on Hoover Tower are meant to represent student movements. At the bottom of the panel, a piggy bank with the Stanford logo is shown receiving coins from the interaction between the officer and protester.  

White skeletal body holds onto the hoover tower,, which are broken into halves. Ropes are pulling the tower off off the ground and out of the skeleton's grip. Behind the body is a solar eclipse.
“The Spirit of Hoover” middle panel at Casa Zapata (Photo: XIMENA SANCHEZ MARTINEZ/The Stanford Daily).

Hernandez-Clarke explained that the evocative skeleton in the middle of the mural is meant to serve as a symbol to encourage students to see themselves in the social movements happening on campus. The overall objective of the mural, according to Hernandez-Clarke, was to spark conversations beyond the dorm about the issues the students were concerned about. 

A lady in cloak, modelled after the Statue of Liberty, dropped her torch but holds a balance instead. On the balance, the bags labelled with agricultural produce seems to weigh heavier than a mother and her child. At the bottom, three people are pulling the rope which wraps around the hoover tower (off the image, to the right).
“The Spirit of Hoover” right panel at Casa Zapata (Photo: XIMENA SANCHEZ MARTINEZ/The Stanford Daily).

In the right panel, the Statue of Liberty, with her torch dropped on the ground, holds an unbalanced scale with a woman and a child weighing less than an illustration of food products. According to Hernandez-Clarke, this alludes to the United States’ political interventions that allowed companies like the United Fruit Company to exploit Latin American countries. 

One of the many meaningful aspects behind these murals was students’ involvement in the concept, painting and unveiling of the murals, according to Hernandez-Clarke. She recalled from her own participation in the “The Spirit of Hoover” mural unveiling at the steps of Hoover Tower that murals have the “power to share history” because they “express ideas vividly and allow students to speak up.” She added that murals are an “important treasure of excellence on campus” and described them as “sites of public memory.” 

Ximena Sanchez Martinez '23 is a writer for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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