Theaster Gates-Commissioned Mural Painted Over in Chicago

The Washington park mural. Photo: Nabiha Khan

According to Chicago Magazine, a mural commissioned by Theaster Gates’s Arts Incubator in Chicago’s Washington Park has been whitewashed just a month after it was completed. The mural, which was the result of a 12-artist collaboration organized by Montreal-based collective street art En Masse, received several complaints from neighbors practically the moment it was painted.

Community members feared that the painting’s depiction of a young boy holding a toy gun sent the wrong message, especially after a teenager was murdered four blocks from the site, just days after the work was completed. Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Residents Advisory Council told Chicago Magazine that the mural “brought on a harsh feeling,” and was “offensive to the broader community.”

Washington Park mural, detail.  Photo: Nabiha Khan

Washington Park mural, detail.
Photo: Nabiha Khan.

Despite the fact that the gun-toting boy was only a small part of a much larger composition, the En Masse artists claim that they were not given the opportunity to comment on or revise the work, and the entire wall was simply painted over. Zero, the artist who painted the controversial figure, said he based it on a 1970s comic book sketch of  “a child with a bubble gun hiding from government-like authorities in Hazmat suits.” He explained that he related to the character, who he sees as a “lost soul.”

Washington Park Arts Incubator spokesperson Mitchell Marr said that instead of having a community meeting to debate the whitewashing, they decided instead to take immediate action, and now plan to use the wall as a rotating platform for artists.

Lee Bey, a special projects manager at the Arts Incubator, said that the group has learned from the misstep: “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.”


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