David Choe’s Controversial Bowery Mural Targeted in Protest Against Rape Culture

The art world is protesting after David Choe bragged about a questionable sexual encounter.

David Choe Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.
David Choe, Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

The Bowery Mural, currently home to a controversial work by street artist David Choe, will be the site of an anti-rape protest and performance art piece titled “NO MEANS NO” on June 18. The high-profile street art location has come under fire for offering a platform to Choe, after he bragged about a sexual encounter that sounded anything but consensual.

The protest is organized by curator Jasmine Wahi, co-owner and director of the Gateway Project Spaces, and founder and director of Project For Empty Space, both in Newark. “This piece is intended to examine examples of violent and predatory misogyny,” reads the Facebook invite to the event. “Our aim is to provoke widespread rejection of the continued normalization of rape culture by bringing visibility to the topic.”

The performance will take place simultaneously at Union Square South and in front of the Bowery mural on Houston street, from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The artwork by Choe was commissioned by Goldman Global Arts, a division of Goldman Properties. The New York real estate company has hosted a rotating display of murals on the site since 2008, featuring street art luminaries such as Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Os Gemeos, JR, Faile, and Maya Hayuk. (It’s worth noting that only three of the 21 artists so honored have been women, according to Bowery Boogie.)

David Choe Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

David Choe, Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

“I’m so confused. How does everyone forget/ignore David Choe’s ‘rapey behavior’ (his own words circa 2014) and give him such a public platform?” wrote Wahi on Facebook June 5. “Wait, I’m actually not confused, we have a Grabber-in-Chief [Donald Trump]… Cool stuff #newyorkartworld for confirming and perpetuating the #rapeculture.”

Within days, word of Choe’s unsavory past was being reported on by the media. “There are hundreds of qualified muralists whom Goldman Properties could have chosen, whose contribution to the art world doesn’t include normalizing sexual violence,” wrote Caroline Caldwell for Hyperallergic.

David Choe Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

David Choe, Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

In 2014, on an episode of his podcast “DVDASA”—the name refers to a pornographic sex act—Choe admitted to co-host Asa Akira, an adult film actress, that he had engaged in what he called “rapey behavior” with a masseuse at her place of business. The encounter ended with the woman giving Choe oral sex. In his description of the event, Choe stated, “She has given me no signs that she’s into me or that this is appropriate behavior.”

“You’re basically telling us that you’re a rapist,” said co-host Akira. Choe was subsequently denounced by XOJane, Buzzfeed, and other publications.

David Choe Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

David Choe, Bowery wall mural (2017). Courtesy of David Choe/photographer Martha Cooper.

In a statement later posted on the podcast website, Choe defended himself. “I am an artist and a storyteller and I view my show DVDASA as a complete extension of my art,” he wrote, insisting he is not a rapist. “If I am guilty of anything, it’s bad storytelling in the style of douche… I’m sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact. They were not!”

The Korean-American artist was hired in 2005 to paint murals at the Facebook office. He became a millionaire after opting to be paid in stock.

Since Choe completed the Bowery mural, slated to be on view through October, the piece has been vandalized several times. The artwork was defaced with the words rapist, and tagged twice by graffiti crew Big Time Mafia, as reported by Time Out New York.

At least one artist who has previously shown on the Bowery wall has spoken out against Choe, addressing him directly on Instagram. “This guy honestly thinks he’s being edgy while he celebrates within the safety of the same metaphorical locker room that has long protected Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, and countless entitled date-raping predators,” wrote Swoon. “Art gives us so many more ways to express sexuality and confusion than just normalizing rapist shop talk…, the actions and attitudes that you put forth as cool destroy more lives than you may even have the capacity to imagine. I hope you wake up soon.”

“Rape culture is everywhere. Rape culture is metastasizing. Rape culture is dangerous,” notes the “NO MEANS NO” protest event. “In spite what those [who] advance and promote rape culture [might say]—those who ignore the gravity of sexual assault and violence, those who participate in the dehumanization of other humans—rape culture affects all of us.”

artnet News reached out to Goldman Global Arts for comment but has yet to hear back.

Here is the full description of the upcoming performance protest.

Recently, a prominent real estate company, which has been lauded for curating and cultivating public art projects in both New York and Miami, became an active endorser of predatory rape culture by commissioning the work of a popular artist and media personality who has openly and publicly admitted to participating in ‘rapey behavior’ and questionable activities akin to sexual harassment at the very least. The artist has since claimed, in response to vehement backlash and potential legal repercussions, that he did not actually assault anyone, and merely fabricated a story intended to titillate and entertain. This type of ‘entertainment’ exemplifies the perpetuation of ‘rape culture.’

We will use the SoHo mural as our main stage for our response to rape culture. It is not in our interest to censor the work of other artists, regardless of how vile their public personas may be. It is important for us to to make it explicitly clear that our aim is not to tamper with, vandalize, or destroy anyone’s work. Rather than erase the it from our memory, we want to respond to it in such a strong way that our action will be remembered above all else. We use the mural as a catalyst for larger critique of those who actively boost rape culture, and those who condone this type of zeitgeist. As a piece meant to be consumed by the public and for the public, we will consume it—chew it and spit it out. We will use this piece as a stage to restart this conversation and this war against sexual violence, without destroying the artistic integrity of the piece.

This happening is not simply about one rape-blind company or one rape-promoting artist—it is about exposing and subsequently dismantling this constructs of patriarchal violence and rape culture.

We will reiterate the prominence of this culture—of those who hold the most powerful positions and are equally culpable in the growth of sexual violence and rape culture. Rape Culture has become OUR global culture. And we will not stand for it. NO MEANS NO.


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