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Mural war of words continues

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A message on a Hamilton wall where an artist's mural of Gombeys was removed should be used for reflection, the Corporation of Hamilton said yesterday.

A spokeswoman said the city hoped the words will encourage “frayed emotions to heal” after controversy was sparked when the corporation painted over artist April Branco's colourful creation as it neared completion.

She was speaking after a message in paper letters appeared yesterday at the spot where the mural had been, near the City Hall car park, which read: “Creative freedom does not exist in a sanitised paradise.”

It appeared to be signed: “F**k, the collective.”

But there was some confusion over the word “F**k” and it seemed to have been removed or fallen off later yesterday.

The row began after the City of Hamilton claimed Ms Branco's original work deviated from the agreed submission and represented only one Gombey troupe, and removed it.

A war of words broke out on social media and Ms Branco said on Facebook she was “enraged, disgusted and heartbroken” by the move.

A city spokeswoman yesterday said freedom was “a two-way street” and that the corporation was free to insist its original contract was honoured.

She added: “This anonymous voice ignores that, similarly sanitises their own message by misspelling a familiar swear word, and condemns ‘the collective', which must be a jab at the democratic, non-elitist process.”

The spokeswoman said: “We did not engage in the Art Festival mural programme to become the art police of Hamilton, nor will we now engage in policing people's freedom of speech.

“This act of vandalism was done in a genteel manner, with paper cutouts and in a way to minimalise the cost of ‘making good'.

“Even though asked, we will not pursue those involved but instead will leave it up for the next day or two for people to reflect on and, we hope, allow frayed emotions to heal.”

The city said Ms Branco was contracted to paint a mural showing “Gombeys dancing, an unmasked child and adult, and child drummers in full costume”.

The spokeswoman said that when the artist realised the space available was “a few inches shorter”, she was told to use her artistic judgment to make the piece work and a sketch was drawn on the wall.

But the spokeswoman said: “Ms Branco then proceeded with painting over the approved sketch and with something entirely different from the artwork that was approved — a mural of portraits to depict senior members of the H&H Gombey troupe. No children, no dancers, no drummers.

“Simply stated, the completely new artwork was not conveyed to the city for consideration until after it was painted and this product was not approved.”

A series of meetings and e-mail exchanges followed with suggestions to try to resolve the deadlock.

The city said these included one from Ms Branco to paint Gombey captains from all local troupes. But the artist said this could be done only if the H&H head captain gave permission, which was refused.

Ms Branco later terminated her contract and the mural was painted over.

The spokeswoman said: “The City of Hamilton, through the City Art Festival, has installed 15 pieces of public art throughout the city without incident and looks forward to continuing to work with artists on the beautification initiative.”

Ms Branco was aware of the guerrilla installation at the site of the mural and said: “That's definitely not my doing, I had nothing to do with that but clearly the public have spoken on their wall.”

She earlier told The Royal Gazette she wanted to paint the people behind the Gombey masks.

Ms Branco said: “They are real people, they have names, they are identifiable so they deserve respect and public recognition.

“I'm trying to help push the conversation about our appreciation of Gombeys further from just the dancer to the man.”

Last night, she claimed much of the row had come about as a result of poor communication between corporation team members and she started painting her revised mural only after “verbal approval” from a project co-ordinator.

She said she was not asked to submit an amended layout for consideration and continued: “Had anybody asked me at any time, I would have e-mailed the file immediately.”

Ms Branco added: “No request was made, no mention of board approval being required.”

To read the Corporation of Hamilton's comments in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

Making a point: someone put up this sign on the southern wall to the City Hall parking lot yesterday in the wake of the Corporation of Hamilton having its workmen paint over a mural by artist April Branco. The sign included an expletive but the word was later removed or fell off
April Branco painting outside City Hall car park (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
April Branco's original submission for a mural at City Hall car park (Provided by the City of Hamilton)

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Published September 18, 2018 at 9:00 am (Updated September 18, 2018 at 11:53 am)

Mural war of words continues

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