Chicago has been having some trouble getting along with public art, as evidenced by the recent destruction of Chicago’s Hyde Park Permission Wall.
Now, a mural commissioned by Theaster Gates’ Arts and Public Life initiative has been whitewashed at the request of Washington Park residents. Painted on an unused muffler shop owned by the University of Chicago on E. Garfield Blvd. and S. Martin Luther King Dr., the mural contained the controversial depiction of a young boy holding a toy gun and stuffed animal. Several days after the mural went up, however, an 18-year-old man was murdered four blocks from the wall art.
Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Residents Advisory Council, says the mural “brought on a harsh feeling.” Butler asked Mr. Theaster Gates to remove the mural, but after not hearing back from Gates, the mural was painted over. A statement issued in conjunction with Alderman Pat Dowell states that “several complaints were made that the mural was offensive containing ‘negative images and gang symbols.'”
En Masse organized the mural, which was a collaboration between 12 artists, featuring muralists from Montreal who were flown in to paint alongside students and local street artists, including Zero, who painted the boy with the gun.When asked about the controversial piece, Zero says the piece was based off a 1970s-era comic book character with a bubble gun hiding from government-like authorities in hazmat suits. He describes the boy as “a lost soul, wandering, not knowing what to do, hiding, and alone,” and “that’s how I feel in my own right. Art is a tough game to be in.” Zero currently has around 10 pieces up in Chicago’s South Side.
While the swift removal of the mural is unfortunate, it has inspired an idea to use the wall as a rotating platform for other mural artists. Lee Bey, a special projects manager at the Arts Incubator stated, “There is now a process in the wake of this. There will be community engagement in advance of the murals—not to veto the subject matter but to give the residents a sense of how it’s all put together.”