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Mural controversy in Hamilton

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A mural of Gombeys by the City Hall car park has been painted over, sparking a row on social media.

Artist April Branco said on Facebook she was “enraged, disgusted and heartbroken” that her almost-complete mural was removed by the Corporation of Hamilton.

But the Corporation said Ms Branco had deviated from her agreed submission and the mural as painted highlighted only one specific Gombey troupe.

A spokeswoman for the municipality said: “It is not the City's policy to practice favouritism and Ms Branco's decision to paint only members of a particular local Gombey troupe did just that.

“She was offered the opportunity to paint the captains of each active Gombey troupe in Bermuda that would have still met the criteria and would have been seen to be more inclusive but she declined.”

The conflict was first publicised by Ms Branco in a Facebook post made yesterday afternoon.

She wrote: “On the ludicrous grounds that it was ‘biased' my nearly completed gombey mural, a tribute to the H & H Troupe, was removed from its location at City Hall car park today.

“Three upstanding black men were whitewashed because their ‘characters had not been vetted'.

“Despite continuous appeals to the administration and the mayor, Corporation of Hamilton refused to allow me to finish this mural and demanded I removed the portraits.”

Ms Branco argued the decision was rooted in race, adding: “We like Gombeys but not black men. We think a mask is more worthy than a man.

“I live in a country that still in 2018 would rather tree frogs and butterflies to decorate the city than it's own people.

“For the first time in my life I am ashamed to be Bermudian. For the first time in my life I've relinquished the belief that art is my life's purpose.”

In a response, the Corporation of Hamilton said: “It is unfortunate that Ms Branco has resorted to a campaign on Facebook to smear the City directly and completely violate its policy to remain apolitical and unbiased, especially when it comes to public art.”

A spokeswoman said the city, through the City Art Festival, has tried to highlight local artists and beautify the city.

It added that public art proposals were vetted to make sure it met the criteria of the festival based on the city's policies.

The spokeswoman said: “Ms Branco, in good faith and because of her supreme artistic talent, was selected to paint the mural as part of the City Art Festival's public art initiative.

“She was chosen after careful consideration of her initial submission of her intended artwork. As the work started, the original submission was sketched on the wall but as installation continued, it came to the City's attention that the work actually being painted was not what Ms Branco has originally submitted to the City and what had been deemed appropriate according to the criteria of the City Arts Festival in line with the City's policies.

“Ms Branco admitted she had abandoned the initial submission and was painting a very similar yet different image. There was no consultation with the City on the change and the City is of the opinion that the second image violates the criteria of the City Art Festival that follows the City's policy.”

The spokeswoman added: “Painting over the mural was the last and least desired result of this unfortunate dispute and Ms Branco was offered the chance to revert to her original submission. She declined.”

April Branco painting outside City Hall car park. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
April Branco's original submission for a mural at City Hall car park (Provided by the City of Hamilton)
A painted-over section of mural along City Hall car park (Photograph by Willow Smith)

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Published September 15, 2018 at 9:20 am (Updated September 15, 2018 at 1:40 pm)

Mural controversy in Hamilton

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