Home Local News State Street murals defaced in “racist attack”

State Street murals defaced in “racist attack”

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An Oconomowoc woman has admitted to defacing a number of murals commissioned by the City of Madison on State Street, and may face legal consequences.

After many windows and storefronts were damaged in protests in late May and early June, windows were boarded up and the City of Madison commissioned artists of color to beautify those boards. The resulting art works celebrated Black lives, remembered Black people lost to violence and police brutality and carried other Black Likes Matter messages.

In an interview Sunday evening, Erica Deglopper of Oconomowoc said she was “adding to the beauty and adding to the message” by spray-painting anti-China and anti-United Nations messages on several murals in the 200 block of State Street earlier in the day.

Sunday was the second time Deglopper spray-painted over portions of existing murals.

On Thursday, Deglopper spray-painted an anti-China message across a solid black section along the bottom of “526 Missed Opportunities,” a mural by Michael Ford and Rafeeq Asad depicting one white tick mark for every second that police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, leading to Floyd’s death and sparking nationwide protests. City staff were able to paint over that message and restore the mural to its original condition on Friday, but on Sunday, Deglopper returned and spray-painted a similar message in the same spot, and also spray painted over the rest of the work. She also spray painted the word “defend” over the word “defund” in an adjacent mural by local artist Darius Agard, and spray painted an anti-United Nations message on another mural on Overture Center for the Arts by Danielle Mielke and Amira Caire. 

Deglopper shared photos of her graffiti on her Instagram story and was captured on video defacing Ford’s mural. 

Video by Jonah Zamzow-Schmidt. Shared with permission.

In the video she is seen wearing a costume-style mask covering her face, but removes it when asked to do so, and readily identifies herself. In the video, she says she feels good about painting over Ford and Asad’s work.

“They painted over mine, so I’m painting over it back,” she is heard saying in the video, apparently referring to her earlier graffiti being painted over. 

City of Madison Arts Program Administrator Karin Wolf said she intends to pursue legal action against Deglopper.

“I think it’s a very serious thing and I’m glad it’s documented. It was racist and awful, and it shouldn’t have happened,” Wolf said. “I certainly think it rises to (a police matter). I think it’s a racist attack from my perspective. I always think that’s a matter that should be thoroughly investigated. It’s really serious, especially right now.”

“She just went off as vigilante”

Ford, who’s known as the Hip Hop Architect and runs camps that help youth of color reimagine the way their cities are designed, said he had a “crazy idea” and called friend and fellow architectural designer Asad to help out.

“I had a crazy idea to paint 526 ticks, one tick for every second that the officer had (his knee) on George Floyd’s neck,” he said. “The idea was that we would show a new way to view time and all of the opportunities that were missed to prevent this unnecessary murder.”

Asad said he was glad to be a part of the project.

“(Ford) was like, ‘Hey, I just got a commission (and) … I want you to be a part of it.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, when are we going to do it?’ He was like, ‘Tonight.’ And I was like, ‘Thanks for the heads up,’” Asad said with a laugh. “But I definitely made time to do it. It was a great experience in the midst of everything that was happening at the time, just being down there and creating this thing.”

“526 Missed Opportunties” in its original form, with YWCA of Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell (aka DJ Ace). Photo courtesy Michael Ford.

“It was a piece that I think a lot of people in the community were enjoying. Or I shouldn’t say enjoying, but it was a piece that just allowed people to see that time in a different measure,” Ford said. “People were shocked when they saw all those ticks. It took a hell of a lot of work to paint each one of those ticks. It’s disheartening that someone will have total disregard for not only the work and the effort, but this is something that was highlighting what George Floyd went through.”

Asad said he can understand Deglopper feeling the need to promote her own messages, “….but to push it or force it on what we’re doing, she just All-Lives-Mattered it and that sucks. Right now we’re talking about Black lives and police brutality and for you to just come to insert your (message) on top of ours, it’s trash.”

Mielke and Caire, who painted a mural celebrating Black womanhood just around the corner on Overture Center, echoed those sentiments.

“Black Sisterhood,” by Danielle Mielke and Amira Caire, and defaced by Erica Deglopper, who shared this photo on her Instagram story.

“It’s very unfortunate. I was just generally disappointed and disgusted,” Mielke said. “I would like legal action to be taken against her. I would hope that there’s consequences for vandalizing art on private property.”

“I’m just over here like, ‘Okay, what really made you take time out of your day to spend it spreading negativity in this way and wanting to just vandalize art?’” Caire said.

Caire also said Deglopper exhibited a certain level of white privilege in defacing the work unapologetically.

“I just see it as you’re using your privilege because you don’t think that there’ll be consequences. You’re okay with giving people your name, you’re okay with sharing this to your (Instagram) story, you’re okay with doing this in public because you really don’t think you’ll get caught and you really don’t think that people will take it seriously because you really are just living in your privilege. I just feel like those people just need to have their consequences because I’m not standing for it,” Caire said.

This is a fight between good and evil.”

Reached Sunday night, Deglopper said she assumed the art was “public” and free for anyone to add to. 

“I mean, it’s public art. I mean, there’s spray paint everywhere. A bunch of people spray painted on actual stone, old buildings. At least I spray painted on pressed board,” she said. “You know, they may be famous artists, but I’m also a famous artist. And it’s an art museum. Why not have more voices there? Isn’t art about voice?”

She said she is a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and an archivist for prominent photographer Art Shay, who chronicled the racial equality movement in Chicago for decades. She describes herself as an “independent contractor.”

When told that the murals were commissioned by the City, she expressed surprise that the government had paid the artists.

“I’m just adding to the beauty and adding to the message. I didn’t have to get paid. I did it for free,” she said. “As long as they have those plywood boards up, why pay artists when artists like myself … can do work for free and in honor of liberty and freedom, which is what artists want all over the world?”

Deglopper said she generally supports the Black Lives Matter movement and supports the protests when she visits Madison three days a week. When reached Sunday night, she said she was in the midst of procuring two discarded basketball hoops that she intended to donate to the Black Lives Matter movement, “so they can play basketball and bring people together that way.” She also said she wants to start a newspaper to chronicle the movement in Madison. But, she said, she doesn’t not support the goal of defunding police. 

“If we defund the police, our local police, we will have chaos, and they will bring in peacekeepers from (the) United Nations. Because it’s our turn to have peacekeepers, and they could be from any country in the world, including China. And if we keep our police local, people that we know, people that know us, people that speak English, it’s going to be much better,” she said.

She said she wasn’t wearing a mask to hide her identity, but as a sort of protest against Dane County’s order requiring face coverings indoors to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Everywhere it says a mask is required … so, that’s my mask,” she said. “We can be ordered to stay six feet apart. Why not eight? Why not 30? Why not 40? Why not be ordered to not look at somebody else? You know, if we can be ordered to wear a mask, why not be ordered to wear a burka?” 

Deglopper also participated in “Reopen Wisconsin” protests against Governor Evers’ Safer at Home order in April.

Deglopper said she felt artwork outside the museum was fair game to paint over.

“His art was outside the museum, and there’s graffiti everywhere. I mean, he should have put a sign on there, please, no graffiti. Or, this is my space, nobody else’s. I mean, come on,” she said. 

When told what the 526 white tick marks represented, she said she agreed with the message of the piece, but that it wasn’t a race issue.

“That guy was evil that (killed George Floyd,” she said. “I think this is a fight between good and evil. And if we make it a fight between black and white, this country’s toast. If it’s a fight between good and evil, we will rise and fly.”

Consequences to be determined

Wolf said in an interview Sunday that she was unsure what the consequences would be, but that she intended to pursue charges. The question of who owns the work is a slightly complicated one; even though the city of Madison paid the artists, the boards on which the work is painted belong to the businesses, and therefore so does the finished work.

It doesn’t really matter who owns the art, though, Wolf said.

“Regardless, it’s not that woman’s property. And she did not have permission to do that,” she said. “It’s not the city’s (property), but it is our project. And beyond that, even if it weren’t our project, if a woman is going around defacing artwork, there are consequences to that. And you’ve seen other people have to face those consequences. So I’m sure that it has to be consistent when she does. I just think … people shouldn’t deface other people’s artwork, no matter what. And so even if she thought it was a free for all graffiti fest, she should not have been marking on another artist’s work. And that’s just like a basic fairness thing.”

Ford said he hopes there are consequences.

“We called that piece ‘526 Missed Opportunities.’ This shouldn’t go down as the 527th missed opportunity. Don’t add this as another tick,” he said.

For their part, the artists are taking the incident as a challenge to do more, and to go bigger.

“Honestly, I want to come back and make it bigger than what it was. I would love to get 526 people together, and we all contribute our own individual tick mark or item that represents that eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Ford said. “So that’s where I want to go next. Where is that or how does that happen? That’s what’s heavy on my brain right now. Yeah, how to honor George Floyd, but also continue to shed light on these missed opportunities we have to bring justice to situations.”

Caire and Mielke have already dealt with their share of adversity over their work. Their mural at Overture Center led to a commission to paint more murals at a yoga studio on East Wilson Street, where a man stopped last Sunday to harass them and tell them they didn’t belong in the neighborhood and that their art was racist. That man lost his job but has not been charged, according to court records.

“Definitely we’re going to keep going,” Caire said. “The people who are doing these things will not mess up my vision, will not mess up my motivation. It just really makes me want to do it more because seeing people react this way … they really, really hate it. It’s like, ‘I know you’re going to hate it, but it’s going to be in your face.’”

“It is encouraging, and that it kind of feels bittersweet knowing that what we’re doing is good, and it’s good for the movement, but disappointing that we are facing backlash,” Mielke said. “But in the sense that it’s rewarding that it’s from people like this. It’s bringing light to their opinions, and people are facing consequences for what they’re doing. It feels good knowing that action is being taken, and it kind of feels like we’re moving in one step in the right direction because people are being held accountable for their actions.”