Art Censorship in the City of Chicago Bridgeport mural by Gabriel Villa

In May 2009, artist Gabriel Villa‘s work on private property was painted over. The National Coalition Against Censorship wrote in response:

The political message of Villa’s mural gives it the highest constitutional protection. Its destruction is, therefore, much more significant “mistake” than Mayor Daley would have it, it is a violation of one of our most deeply cherished rights – the right to express an opinion without being silenced by a public official. For anyone who still cares about First Amendment protections the Mayor’s making light of the Alderman’s brutal act is as sinister as the Balcer’s refusal to apologize.

A description of the mural artwork from Gabriel Villa’s blog:

Throughout art history people have been curious about the meaning behind visual images. All great works of art offer the viewer the flexibility of personal interpretation that reveal who we are as human beings. Great art transforms us and reveal who we are in society. To one individual, an image can make him/her feel good, intelligent, and poetic—that same image can reveal to another the carnal instincts that are within themselves.

Through the Bridgeport mural I explored the role that surveillance cameras have in our contemporary urban environment. Our actions are tracked and documented 24 hours a day. When we purchase products through credit cards, call through cell phones, walk down the street, we are watched by the eye in the sky—privacy no longer exists. These days one really has to make an effort to carve out time for thought and prayer. The image of the surveillance cameras represents a division in people’s opinions on the cameras in Chicago neighborhoods. Some people think the cameras are positive additions that repel criminals away from their community, and others think that they are a way of marking and “ghetto-izing” neighborhoods, which ultimately pave the way for a gentrification.

In my mural, the Chicago Police Department’s logo was painted on all three cameras. The cameras are the property of the City of Chicago. If the cameras, instead, were the property of the State of Illinois, I would have painted the state’s logo.

The references to Jesus Christ, the mounted deer head, and the skull are odd visual leaps—but as an artist the images made sense to me. I knew the images in conjunction with the cameras would be visually compelling and would invite the public to a cohesive dialogue. I chose to depict the three mass-produced, over-saturated and universal symbols. The deer head, the celebrated trophy of the American sportsman, was meant to address the desensitization of contemporary society. That animal head hanging on the wall of your local hangout is what hunters call a trophy—a souvenir of a kill. The crucifixion was a commentary on the absence of spirituality in our lives. I saw the image of Jesus symbolizing an internal light in stark contrast to the man-made flashing blue lights illuminating marginalized neighborhoods throughout Chicago. The image of the Christ was a social commentary on humanity’s internal struggle. The skull was the catalyst in the original design for the Bridgeport mural. The image of the skull, loaded with symbolism was, I admit, my own guilty pleasure. This image represents a stylization that most professors in art schools and universities advice students to stay away from, too low brow. I disagree—it gives me the permission to use imagery that I grew up with, such as low- rider art and album cover art from bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. It also referenced the Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada and Mexico’s cultural celebration “Dia de Los Muertos.

In conclusion, my goal with this mural was to provide a reflection into ourselves. I have been living and creating art in the city of Chicago for over ten years. I knew my mural would be thought provoking, but was much surprised at the extent of the action taken by the 11th Ward Alderman Balcer. He wrongfully ordered Streets and Sanitation Department to illegally trespass and paint over and destroy my mural on Thursday, May 14, 2009 in the AM in the City of Chicago. In my mind he committed a crime—not I.

El Arte Es La Salvacion,

Gabriel Villa

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

Blogging Censorship is where National Coalition Against Censorship staff weigh in on the censorship issues on their minds.
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