Calafia was Here is a large-scale mural project painted on the exterior walls of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The artwork has been executed and designed by artist Erin LeAnn Mitchell, whose work is inspired by the legend of Calafia. Calafia is described as the fictional queen of the island of California, first introduced by sixteenth-century poet Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in his epic novel, Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián). In Montalvo’s fictional world, this island was ruled by Calafia and inhabited by her Amazon tribe. In Mitchell’s stunning and all-encompassing work, she utilizes two primary themes celebrating movement and language. A dancing figure, with a duafe (or afro pick) as a head, symbolizes beauty and hieroglyphic language while its four-footed limbs acknowledge life and existence. A motif of a running Black woman embodies autonomy and movement. The scale of the composition gives motion and presence to Mitchell’s afrofuturistic-influenced design. The pattern surrounding the building mimics that of fabric — another medium that Mitchell uses often in her work. The entire piece emphasizes the often forgotten role of Black women throughout all — but specifically California — history. Calafia was Here invites the community to consider and celebrate the unrecorded histories of Black Americans in the West and to champion Black liberation.
About the Artist
About Erin LeAnn Mitchell (Birmingham, Alabama): Southern born and raised, Erin LeAnn Mitchell’s work centers around Black futures. Finding solace in her southern matriarchal family, her work propels Black people into a space and time that enables them to live authentically free. As a continuum of those who came before and those who will come after, Mitchell delivers messages of a brighter future in the Black experience. Erin LeAnn Mitchell attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2011 and a Master’s in Art Education from Columbia College in 2016. Mitchell works in a variety of media, including painting and textile design. In 2020, Mitchell was included in a group exhibition All Things Bright and Beautiful at the Birmingham Museum of Art alongside Amy Sherald and Kerry James Marshall. Mitchell’s work has a robust following and has even been featured on the nationally syndicated television show Empire. Mitchell was recently commissioned to create a portrait to honor Dr. Angela Y. Davis’ prolific humanitarian achievements that now lives in her home.
Painting Assistants: Halden Willard, Melayna Smith, Jessica Alcazar
Make your visit to the mural interactive with this artist-customized Spotify playlist to complement Calafia Was Here!
Check out these behind-the-scenes photos by Heraldo Creative Studio of the mural under construction!
Want to read more about Calafia was Here? Here is a list of media mentions and interviews.
KCBX, Mar 17, 2022: “Calafia was Here: An artist’s vision to bring a legendary Black warrior queen to SLO” by Benjamin Purper.
The Tribune, Mar 5, 2022: “Second in a series of SLO Art Museum murals is inspired by Black history, storytelling” by Nick Wilson.
Calafia was Here is presented thanks to these generous sponsors
Candace and Bert Forbes
The Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust
Shirley and Mike Ritter
Liz Mason and