Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where Graffiti and Religion Meet

For the most part, Madonna of the Toast stories end in one of two ways: they drop off the media’s radar, fading into obscurity or they get sold on eBay, making the attention last a bit longer (but not that much longer). But there is a third, less common possibility: defacement.

Above, a devil graffiti painted atop the Virgin Mary. The image in question is in Chicago, underneath the Kennedy Expressway. A hospital worker first spotted the image back in 2005 and since then people have wandered through litter and homeless encampments to leave a memento and say a prayer. The city’s department of transportation attributes the belled image to road salt, but that has not dissuaded the faithful, or the detractors.

This is not the first time the image has been vandalized. According to this article from Medill Reports (a creation of Northwestern University’s graduate journalism program), the image has been the victim of two previous attacks. Once, the words “big lie” were scrawled across the shape; the second time someone riffed on Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

In the past, the city has scrubbed away the paint, but not this time, so they just used one of the classic methods of graffiti abatement: a rectilinear paint over.

I like graffiti. It can be artful, political, smart, cute and funny. I think there is a lot to be said for the public reclaiming certain spaces and surfaces. Hitting someone’s home should never be done, unless requested. Yes, much of what gets tagged, stenciled or painted in urban settings is private or government property, making it a fine line (at least from a legal perspective).

So, what do we make of someone painting over an image that some people find important? The articles say that no one has complained about Mary being painted over by the city, but that doesn’t answer the question. Thoughts?

No comments: