This story was originally published by Austin Weekly News, a newspaper published by the nonprofit Growing Community Media.
AUSTIN — A recently unveiled mural at 5908 W. Chicago Ave. in Austin has been withdrawn. The mural was a collaboration between the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Chicago Department of Public Health as part of the city’s Vax-Chi-Nation program that encourages community members to get vaccinated.
The ‘Chicago Love’ piece was created by artist Joseph ‘Sentrock’ Perez this year and was criticized by members of the local community who were offended by what they believed to be racial caricatures depicted in the mural .
“Every time I look at this mural, I remember reading and seeing pictures of our black ancestors depicted as Jigger Boo’s, Coons [and] other unpleasant images in some of our history books,” wrote Austin resident Roman Morrow in a letter published in May in Austin Weekly News.
“Caricature imagery and caricature depicting black people with big lips, big teeth, big nose, layered hair and a round face that symbolizes a pig or monkey character,” Morrow added.
Austin resident Herbert Morin echoed Morrow’s sentiment. Morrow said the cartoons were offensive and that he and other members of the community were left out of the process leading to the commissioning and installation of the mural.
“Whether [city officials] asked someone [in the community], they would have known it was not a good idea,” Morin said. “They never ask. You just look up and stuff like that is up and then they get mad when we don’t like it.
Sentrock declined to discuss the removal of the mural when contacted by email. The artist contented himself with posting a terse message on his Instagram account: “No comment, I am so heartbroken.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 64% of residents of ZIP Code 60651, where the mural was located, are vaccinated. It is unclear whether or not IDPH will replace the Sentrock mural with another one.
When reached for comment, Andrew Buchanan, director of public affairs for the Chicago Department of Public Health, did not outline any future plans for a replacement mural. He responded to the community’s response to the mural, but did not confirm whether outcry from some residents was the reason the mural was removed.
“This program commissioned colorful murals across the city and focused particularly on communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Buchanan said. “Unfortunately there was some public opposition to this particular mural and a decision was eventually made to have it repainted.”
On August 5, Morrow said that after his letter to the editor was published, more members of the community became interested in the mural.
“People who hadn’t seen the mural before walked around and saw it and agreed with me how offensive it was,” Morrow said. “Art is subjective, I know, but with things like this, it’s important to engage artists in the community.”
Morrow said a local councilman and prominent Austin businessman told him city officials had seen his letter, prompting them to remove the mural.
“I haven’t been contacted directly by the city, but hopefully if there is a replacement they will bring in an artist from the community to do it and with full transparency,” he added. “Ultimately, businesses come and go. Residents are those who live here and must watch [public art] and be affected by it, so we should have a say in community art.