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'Black Lives Matter' scrubbed from Bernal Hill rock; artist returns to paint it again

Artists Micah Rivera (standing) and Kseniya Makarova. | Photo: Amelie Wen
By Nikki Collister - Published on June 05, 2020.

A flat-faced rock on the north side of Bernal Hill, dubbed the Bernal Rock, has long been a platform for public expression.

Over the years, its surface has provided a blank canvas for witty art and social commentary alike, reflecting local artists’ views on presidential candidates, LGBTQ+ rights, and most recently, the coronavirus pandemic

On Wednesday, Bernal Heights resident Kseniya Makarova gave the rock her own spin, with art honoring the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"I drove by on Tuesday and noticed it was still COVID-themed, and that seemed wrong because the rock really tends to capture the current atmosphere,"  said Makarova, a graphic designer and art director who had never previously painted the rock. "Staying silent about this felt like a denial."

Makarova's repainted the rock with the words "Black Lives Matter" on a bright green background, as a black fist, raised in solidarity, rose towards the rock’s pointed top.

Original artwork on the rock. | Photo: Kseniya Makarova

But less than 24 hours after the "Black Lives Matter" message appeared, the rock was painted over again with a coppery brown paint, in what appears to have been a deliberate attempt to erase the message.

The rock as it appeared on Thursday. | Photo: Kseniya Makarova

While the artwork on the rock isn't formally managed, local courtesy typically calls for it to be left up anywhere from a few days to several weeks before being painted over again. 

Makarova said she was shocked to discover on Thursday morning that her work had been painted over. She left a sign on the ground, reading: "Who did this? This said 'Black Lives Matter.' I will repaint tonight. - The Original Artist."

Neighbors quickly took to social media to discuss the removal of Makarova's work, with Makarova weighing in on Nextdoor.

Have to report a heartbreaking event up on Bernal Hill.

I painted the BLM message on our rock-turned community message board yesterday morning. As I worked, countless neighbors stopped to chat, take photos, and say thanks. Then we had a beautiful, peaceful protest in the Mission.

This morning, I found the rock completely painted over.

It happens here too, of course. But I can't help but be shocked.

I will repaint the rock tonight, and every day after if I have to. But please keep an eye out, and never stop fighting hatred and racism with all you've got.

Community support poured in in response to Makarova's post, with neighbors volunteering to pitch in for paint and even offering to set up a neighborhood watch to deter the unknown defacer from returning.

In the meantime, a temporary memorial to George Floyd was taped to the rock by a neighbor. Intended to remain until the rock was repainted, it, too, was taken by an unknown person at some point on Thursday.

On Thursday night, Makarova returned to paint the rock once again. This time, she was joined by artist Micah Rivera, who added a tribute to Alex Nieto on the rock's north-facing side.

Nieto, a Bernal Heights resident, was killed by police in Bernal Heights Park in 2014. He was shot 59 times by officers, responding to a call from someone who had mistaken Nieto’s taser — which he used at his job as a nightclub bouncer — for a firearm. 

The updated rock on Friday morning. | Photo: Nikki Collister/Hoodline
Photo: Nikki Collister/Hoodline

Makarova told Hoodline that she struggled with coming forward as the person responsible for the original art, "because I never wanted this to be about me, or even about the rock. It’s about the message."

Unfortunately, she said, the decision to paint over the art was "all the more about the message."

After sharing a photo of the repainted rock on Instagram, Makarova expressed concern that the message might be erased again. "Let's hope it's still there in the morning," she posted.

As of Friday morning, the Black Lives Matter art remains.

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