SAN FRANCISCO — With his mural “Pesca pesca Redouble la Force,” on the side of an apartment building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, artist Erlin Geffrard wanted to celebrate his hardworking parents and emphasize the struggle of working-class people.

“It’s kind of difficult imagery,” he told Hyperallergic. “I wanted something sincere and wholesome. I wanted to share with the community a real soft moment, this moment of breath.”

Geffrard grew up in Florida, where his parents moved from Haiti in 1979. His father often talked about the Bay Area, and that was part of the reason Geffrard chose to go to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI).

“He was really inspired by the radicalism,” Geffrard said of his father. “He loved history and he knew a lot about the Black Panthers, and we’d talk about them. He loved jazz, too, and a lot of West Coast philosophy, and this seemed like an interesting way to honor him with this mural. It’s hyper-Bay Area and filled with love and celebrating life.”

In the artwork, Geffrard’s parents wear brightly colored shorts, shirts, and hats, along with sunglasses and sandals. They carry fishing poles and display their catch. Fishing was their favorite pastime, and as well as showing his own children how to fish, Geffrard’s father taught many neighborhood kids. At his father’s funeral a few years ago, the adults he’d mentored as children came carrying their poles. 

Erlin Geffrard, “Pesca pesca Redouble la Force” (2021) (photo by Wilfred J. Jones)

Darryll Smith, co-owner of the Luggage Store Gallery, which commissioned the mural, met Geffrard through Carlos Villa, who taught at SFAI. Villa was on the board of the Luggage Store and would bring students by sometimes. 

“Erlin was one of those students about whom he told us, ‘You have to get to know this person,’” Smith said.

Geffrard says his parents worked hard to make a living for themselves and their six children, and “redouble la force” was a phrase they often used to encourage themselves and their children to use life’s difficulties as inspiration for growth. With Haitian immigrants recently being forced by political and natural disasters to leave their country, Geffrard wanted to remind people of the human need to search for a better life and the contributions of Haitians to this country, such as the soldiers who fought in Savannah, Georgia during the Revolutionary War; the Haitian immigrant Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, known as the founder of Chicago; and the many cultural contributions, such as Haitian music and dance.

Geffrard, now a professor of art at the University of Pennsylvania, likes that the mural, one of the largest currently up in San Francisco, looms over the neighborhood.

“I love seeing people’s interaction with it, be it a family dealing with rent issues or an open-air entrepreneur or a store clerk or a tech person,” he said. “It’s a moment of ‘Whoa what is that?’ Sometimes, when we’re walking on the ground level, we don’t look up, and that it’s vibrant and colorful and playful reminds us of our humanity and takes our lives back to what really matters for a moment.”

What’s more, representing his parents in a moment of leisure enjoying themselves meant a lot to Geffrard. “It’s a moment of reprieve, and I wanted to share that with the neighborhood,” Geffrard said. “Let’s give a tender moment for the Tenderloin.”

Erlin Geffrard’s “Pesca pesca Redouble la Force” is located at 455 Eddy Street, San Francisco.

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Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is a radio and print reporter in San Francisco. She has written stories for dozens of media outlets including NPR, Latino USA, the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, California...