Mural in St. Paul Neighborhood Sparks Controversy
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Art is open to interpretation.
"It does look like bears laying, the mama on the bottom and the baby lying on the knee and stuff,” said Carmen Hernandez.
But a recently completed mural painted by Belgian artist Roa is raising questions over the parameters around freedom of expression.
"It's not something we feel this neighborhood deserves,” said Gladys Wolsky.
the mural is part of a "Wall Therapy" project through a nonprofit organization called Synthesis Collaborative. Organizer Dr. Ian Wilson, a radiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, chose Roa and the other artists to use public space as a vehicle for inspiration and change in the community.
More than ten murals have gone up around the city, but only one has sparked controversy.
"It's sexual. It definitely has sexual overtones,” Wolsky said.
Local artists say that the purpose of art is to inspire a dialogue; something Roa's work has done in Rochester.
“People now stop and look and discuss. I'm interacting with people I would normally never talk to, there's something common to them in their area to discuss,” said a local artist.
Dr. Wilson, whose organization also provides basic x-ray services to developing countries, says he is saddened to hear about the negative reaction to artwork meant to brighten the community.
Many residents of Saint Paul lofts who face the mural everyday say they want it repainted or replaced. A city spokesperson said this is a First Amendment issue and the city has no jurisdiction over it because it's on private property. They say it will be left up to property owner Dan Morganstern's discretion."
Morganstern declined to comment on the mural.
“We have to live with it. He's not living with it. He's not having to see it. We do," said Wolsky.
Some residents have changed their initial interpretation while others are keeping their blinds closed.
“We are trying to build up the neighborhood, make it a place you want to live. I bought the apartment because of the windows; now they have to stay closed,” Wolsky said.
A local artist said he spoke with Roa about the attention his mural has attracted.
“He likes it. Whenever anyone asks him he says its two bears sleeping. Artists want to engage the community in which their art is up.
Roa is described as a secretive street artist, often seen wearing hoodies to hide his identity. We're told he's returning to Belgium after leaving his mark in Rochester.