The images of the familiar plastic bear filled with honey has been on walls and windows around the city for years. The murals popped up in places like the San Francisco LGBT Center painted in a rainbow of colors, and during the pandemic mask bears started to appear.
No one knows the artist’s real name or any other details. But now, in the woke era, some activists have turned against him. But that did not stop the San Francisco Chronicle from speculating that he is “widely believed to be a prosperous straight white man who works in the tech industry:”
Now this legion of honey bears has become among the most polarizing figures in San Francisco. As has fnnch, the alias of the artist who created and marketed the bears to mass proliferation across the city. The San Francisco artist began painting the bears “because they make me happy,” he told The Chronicle in a statement, agreeing to comment only through email. “I continued painting them because they make other people happy.”
But not everyone is happy. For many in the Bay Area art community, the ubiquity of his images has long raised questions about who gets to make art in San Francisco and what the honey bear has come to represent in a city dealing with gentrification and economic disparities.
DoggTown Dro, the activist and self-described artist who clashed with the activist as he was removing graffiti from a mural, defended it as rooted in social justice.
“I didn’t anticipate fnnch being there,” Dro told the Chronicle via email. “I only sought to address people attempting to erase a message I recognize as a cry from the native people of S.F. for survival, recognition, acknowledgement, or at least a rightfully angry expression.”
“You understand that these f—ing bears have become synonymous with gentrification in San Francisco and displacement of the artists that come from here?” Dro said in the video.
But fnnch also has his defenders, including Sister Roma of the drag group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The artist painted the bear wearing a nun habit on the gay bar Powerhouse and helped raise $34,000 at a related fundraiser.
“A lot of people are attacking him for who they think he is, not who he really is,” Sister Roma said. “I don’t think the honey bears brought gentrification. Gentrification happened, and I think many of the people liked the bears. That’s not fnnch’s fault.”
Cara Tramontano is also a fan.
“I don’t believe his intention was to gentrify the city or not leave room for artists of color,” Tramontano said.
In response to his critics, fnnch announced on Instagram this week that he is undertaking new projects, including one around vaccinated bears and another is a $10,000 gift to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to “create more public art by queer artists.”
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