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Mural Drama: Gone, but Not Forgotten

Monday, December 3, 2012

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From a border town in Mexico to Philadelphia, three iconic murals long celebrated for their interpretations of heritage and history have vanished—all, apparently, unintentionally.

A crew of eager-beaver graffiti-abatement workers, an adjacent property owner, and even the federal government have been blamed for painting over the murals.

Exhibit A: Nogales

In Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, a graffiti abatement crew recently obliterated México Opuesto, also known as La Serpiente, a 16-year-old mural featuring a snake in the claws of an eagle.

Mexico Opuesto
Raffaella Fontanot

City workers recently painted over a popular 16-year-old mural in the border town of Nogales.

The mural, by the now-deceased local artist Alberto Morackis, had been described as an iconic piece that “screams of identity, justice, democracy, and many other things that are always in play in the identity of the U.S. border area,” according to a local newspaper.

The city workers were responding to a citizen complaint about graffiti elsewhere in the neighborhood when they mistakenly covered the mural.

Ignacio Riestra,  director of the “Urban Image” office in Nogales, told a local newspaper that he asks employees to respond to citizen complaints within three hours.

“The truth is it was a mistake, from us trying to respond to the community,” said Riestra.

Members of an artists’ group called Taller Yonke (Junk Workshop), which was started by Morackis, plan to repaint the mural, according to reports.

Exhibit B: Evanston

Meanwhile, in Evanston, IL, a property owner reportedly paid to have a 10-year-old mural removed from an adjacent property, without permission to do so.

The owner thought the mural was graffiti, according to reports. However, the 110-foot-long work had actually been painted—with permission— by local high school students in 2002.

Evanston mural
City of Evanston

This mural, which included elements similar to tagging, was mistaken for graffiti and painted over.

A Loose History of Evanston depicted historically significant local residents and events, including the desegregation of Evanston schools.

“It’s certainly a loss, and I think the community is quite disappointed that the mural was painted over, particularly because it spoke to the history of Evanston,” Jeff Cory, the city’s cultural arts/arts council director, told the Chicago Tribune.

Many residents don’t buy the argument that owner thought the mural was graffiti, reports say.

But Cory said the mural included some artistic components that were similar to tagging.

Restoring the public mural is not possible, but there are plans to paint a new mural in its place.

Exhibit C: Philadelphia

Finally, a federal government agency may be behind a thick coating of black paint that now smothers an iconic mural in Northern Philadelphia.

The mural, painted in 2001, was a part of the city’s Mural Arts Program’s African-American collection. The work paid tribute to Dox Thrash, best known for his skill and creativity in printmaking.

Artist Cavin Jones incorporated into the mural several images of people that Thrash had used in his drawing and prints.

Dox Thrash tribute mural
Mural Arts Program

Part of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program’s African-American collection, this piece that pays tribute to printing icon Dox Thrash was recently covered in black paint.

Various reports say that the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency, which has owned the property since September due to foreclosure, may have funded the overcoating job. But other reports quote a HUD spokesperson as saying that the damage likely occurred off its watch.

So, the questions continue as to why the mural is gone and who is responsible.

The Mural Arts Program was alerted that the entire mural had been blacked out via social media the week of Nov. 19, reports say.

“We're not exactly sure what happened at this moment,” Thora Jacobson, director of design review at Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, told a local news bureau. “We have other mural artists working in the neighborhood and we're asking them if they saw what happened. Our operations guy said it must have been done with a lift and a professional spray gun.”

Though the mystery remains unsolved Mural Arts Program representatives say they want to re-create the Dox Thrash mural, but because the building is owned by HUD, the future of the wall is uncertain.


Tagged categories: Artists; Color; Design; Graffiti; Murals

Comment from Jody Favia, (12/3/2012, 9:19 AM)

maybe this could just be the problem in Philadelphia, that they have a director of design of mural arts program. How much longrer do you think the private tax paying citizens can keep paying for government hack jobs.

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