Debate on public art: Does naked woman go too far?

5:59 PM, Aug 22, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA  -- A South Atlanta neighborhood received an unexpected gift this past weekend, a painting from an Argentina artist. It's part of Living Walls, a non-profit that bring professional street art to communities. The problem, some people think its a beautiful gift to the community.  Others like it but feel the location is inappropriate.  And then there are those who just outright disapprove of the project.

"I mean really, seriously? This is just too much," said Wanda Cooper looking at the mural.

The painting is a series of images on a wall surrounding the old General Motors building at the intersection of McDonough Boulevard and Sawtell Avenue. It starts and ends with the full frontal image of a naked woman. In the middle she appears to grow fur, then sheds it, forming a dog like creature walking away. 

Cooper saw it Tuesday morning while driving her son to school. She doesn't plan to go that way again.

"I'd rather leave a little bit earlier, take the traffic route and just deal with the traffic than let my child see this," said Cooper.

Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs says it signed off on the painting along with 18 others in early August. But director Camille Russell Love insists Hyuro, the artist behind the project in question, did not paint what was proposed.

Living Walls executive director Nathan Bolster says artists often don't know what they will do until they arrive.  The artists come from all over the world and often get a feel for the community before finalizing their design.  The non-profit shows the city and the owner of the wall being painted previous work by the artist to give them a sense of what to expect.  11Alive looked at some of Hyuro's other work and couldn't find any that included naked women.

While the city debates what to do now, the community is buzzing with opinions on what the project means. Bolster explains it this way, "It was human growing out its animal and I think you can see the hair grows out, sheds the animal and then the animal leaves the human."

Some see it as a transformation, leaving the failures, violence, anger or other 'animalistic' behavior behind to become a better person. Some argue it's a story of south Atlanta itself, or at least what it would like to achieve. Even then, some say it's the right project in the wrong place.

"How can you tell your child that it's okay for a female to disrobe and you know we got a prostitute around the corner walking the streets every day," said resident Cathy Taylor.

The painting sits in front of the sanctuary to Antioch Baptist church. There's a mosque right down the street and a constant parade of school buses passing by.

"To me this is very disrespectful," said another passerby who stopped to join the discussion.

Bolster says Living Walls unveiled 19 new murals over the weekend. Only this one has sparked such fierce debate. But the non-profit says that's part of its mission.

"Our goal is to activate neighbors in their discussion about art, it's not to infuriate them," said Bolster.

There are those who love the painting and if they want to keep it, they'll need to speak up as well. The city says the artist violated her contract, which states in part the public art project cannot create a "dangerous distraction to motorists or pedestrians" and that the "value to the general public in viewing the work is not outweighed by any existing negative public interests related to aesthetics, additional sign clutter, and the public's safety."

A spokesperson for the department says the painting needs to be modified or removed.

The Chosewood neighborhood has its monthly meeting September 10th, where the issue is likely to come up. But many parents are hoping the issue is resolved long before then.

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