By: Catherine Kudlick
A large mural features 504 protestors and celebrates the spirit of "Patient No More." Click here to see an expanded photo of the mural. What might appear to the public as the anchor and one of the most striking features of “Patient No More” was far from certain; in fact, just a week before the exhibit launch, we debated whether it was the right use of our resources. Still, our team of three - Curator/Graphic Designer Fran Osborne, Longmore Institute Associate Director Emily Beitiks, and Director (Me) - had been planning for something in that great rotunda wall all along. It offered a daunting blank canvas, so central, so white, so easy to make a giant mistake, yet so full of potential. And the ramp wall was red. Very red. At the beginning we tossed around a number of ideas, from a detailed timeline to a large simple rendering of the iconic “Sign 504 Now!” yellow button or a large “Patient No More” banner. I can’t remember when we first came upon the idea for the dramatic seventy-foot photomural above the ramp. But it had something to do with the generous photo donations from HolLynn D’Lil, Anthony Tusler, and the Bancroft Library. For the exhibit stations we had sifted through scores of them, nearly all of them black and white. We had to make tough choices about what to include, while having to leave others out. Each time, we came back to the intense, joyful, determined faces of the participants. For the first couple of years we approached it as a memorial to commemorate the lives of occupiers who had passed away. Naïvely maybe, we believed we could identify and account for everyone in all the photos. But the deeper we got into the project, the more we realized this would be impossible: too many people came and went, too many had disappeared into history.
And there were practical concerns. We dreaded the prospect of someone very much alive arriving at the exhibit only to find themselves up on the wall. And what would we do if someone died once the mural had been put up?
Ultimately, we decided to celebrate the people with disabilities associated with the occupation. We tried to create a mosaic of individuals who made up a vibrant group whose coming together transformed the struggle for disability rights.
If this wasn’t a memorial, we needed to decide on the story we did want to tell, assuming it was possible to tell one at all. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine putting 27 of them in conversation! Who looked at whom across the rounded wall all day and night?
Curator Fran Osborne spent countless hours sifting through photos with students, coming up with templates, sending us different examples, trying to get the balance. Did someone appear too often? Who was missing? Which pictures deserved to be larger? And which ones could actually be blown up to such a large size without being distorted?
We knew so much depended on a viewer’s location while looking at it: from the rotunda, from the ramp itself, going up, going down . . . . Like life itself, things completely changed with perspective.
And how to convey something so striking, so important, so visual to people who couldn’t see it? How to be true to our mission to incorporate access to everything in our exhibit, though not necessarily in the same way for everyone? Our solution: commission poets Eli Clare and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, each who identify as people with disabilities to respond creatively with sound poems (check them out below).
It’s hard to describe my first impression of the mural in all its glory. It sits somewhere between hearing those sound pieces read by the poets and walking into the Ed Roberts Campus rotunda just two days before our launch and seeing it on the wall. It was maybe the closest I came to understanding a sense of victory and permanence after working so hard on something that I sensed deep down would make a difference.
Two mural moments confirmed this was true. The first was the day of our launch when 504 participant Michael Williams posed in front of his photo from 38 years before: wearing the same button, same smile, same sense of defiant pride. Many other occupiers, their friends, their families have found people they knew up on that giant canvas.
Then one day around closing time at the Ed Roberts Campus, I came upon an older gentleman slowly making his way up the ramp where he wanted to get close to the mural. “I always wondered what this place was for!” he exclaimed as he turned to me. “I rush through here every day to catch BART, and for some reason today I looked up. My god, I had no idea! I’ve seen some of these people all over Berkeley!” When I introduced myself as being associated with the mural, he smiled and said, “Wow, this is history!”