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Outcry Dooms ‘Demonic’ Atlanta Mural

Monday, December 17, 2012

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A whiplash-inducing controversy over an Atlanta public mural deemed "demonic" has ended under a heavy cloak of gray paint.

Last week, the same Georgia Department of Transportation crews that recently helped save the contentious mural from oblivion painted over it for good.

The mural had been at the center of a fierce debate among residents, the city and artists since it was first painted over the summer.

Roti Mural

This abstract mural in Atlanta fueled months of debate before being covered up last week.

Just last month, GDOT workers helped salvage the 240-foot mural by 23-year-old French street artist Pierre Roti after residents painted over it to protest what they called its "demonic" message.

The mural depicted a man with a crocodile head emerging from a gothic cityscape.

T's not Crossed

Now, however, a probe into the approval process for the project has resulted in the mural’s demise.

“It was [covered], because we were made aware that it did not go through all the steps/policies that the city has for public art,” GDOT spokesperson Jill Goldberg told D+D News.

Roti’s piece was one of 18 murals painted in blighted areas around the city over the summer. Living Walls, the nonprofit organization that commissioned the piece, was operating under the belief that the wall was private property at the time of installation, Goldberg said.

Removing paint from defaced mural

Volunteers and GDOT crews removed wet gray paint from the defaced mural in November.

“The removal was based on conversations with representatives of the city and that all the steps in the various approval processes were not met in this particular case,” she said.

Artists 'Discouraged'

Roti had traveled to Atlanta at his own expense and spent 11 days on the mural, The New York Times reported. The artist said he intended the mural as "an allegory about the brutality of capitalism, not a statement on religion or demons," the newspaper reported.

Obliterating the work “has left me speechless,” Roti said. “But if the community decides to take it down, why not?”

Living Walls representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but director Monica Campana has voiced her displeasure to other media outlets.

“The art community is very discouraged,” Campana told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I heard from a couple of artists already saying, 'What’s the point if their work is just going to be painted over?'”

Reports said that a city representative erroneously approved the Roti mural.

But Campana said, “It’s all politics” and contended that most of the community had supported the work.

'No One Talked to Anyone'

However, the mural had its share of critics in the historic neighborhood it graced.

The group of roller-wielding buffers that painted over the mural in November included a retired state legislator. They were not charged for any crime, despite having no authority to cover up the mural, reports said.

Douglas Dean, the former State Representative, told media outlets that he had helped paint over the mural because the community had not been consulted on the project.

“We just don’t think that the artist represents our community," Dean said. "All these departments of city government signed off on this, but no one talked to anyone in the neighborhood."

Public Art Connection

Public art controversies are growing nationwide. Elsewhere in Atlanta this fall, crews painted over a public mural by Argentinian artist Hyuro. That painting had drawn fire over its depiction of a woman in various states of undress.

Last week, D+D News reported on three public murals that were recently obliterated, and a recent D+D News blog detailed many others.

Part of the problem is that there’s no single “public opinion,” according to University of North Carolina professor Michael Kelly, who has written on the topic,

“Artists have to understand they’re stepping into uncertain territory without being so conciliatory that they avoid controversy, or so rigid that they insist on the autonomy of the art," Kelly recently told Atlanticcities.com.

"What do you do if you offer some food to somebody, and you’re trying to get them to experience new things, but they don’t like the food?" he said.

"You have to have comeback. You can’t just say, ‘You people are children!’ There has to be a way of discussing it."


Tagged categories: Artists; Government; Murals; Murals; Regulations

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