Graffiti Blasters Paint Over Artist's Commissioned Mural

Mural showed Christ, skull over police camera boxes

A mural depicting police surveillance boxes has created a tempest in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. The alderman ordered the mural painted over. The artist said he was commissioned for the work, and that the incident smacks of censorship.

Artist Gabriel Villa said a local gallery owner asked him to paint a mural on the wall of a neighborhood tavern and liquor store near 31st and Morgan. He admits that what he created was "provocative," with the work depicting three Chicago Police Department surveillance cameras festooned with a skull, a deer head, and a crucified Christ.

"I wanted to create something that was urban ... something that we see in a lot of marginalized neighborhoods, like the surveillance camera," Villa said.

As he worked, neighborhood residents seemed largely complimentary of his work, Villa said.

"I feel the Police Department focused much more so on the surveillance cameras," he said. "I wanted to create a platform for dialogue, but the mural was never given a chance."

Yesterday, Villa received a call telling him the mural had been painted over.

"I think it's about censorship! I think it's about freedom of expression," he said.

Alderman Jim Balcer confirmed that he ordered the mural removed, saying some of his residents viewed the work as graffiti.

"From what I've been told by zoning, you have to have a permit. He did not have a permit. Number two, we received complaints about it, so I had it removed," Balcer said.

However, a spokesman for the city Department of Zoning said her office does not traditionally get involved in permitting neighborhood mural paintings, suggesting that the Department of Buildings might be the correct agency.  A call to Buildings was not immediately returned.

Balcer insists he was not seeking to limit the artist's freedom.

"Everyone has a right to their opinion," he said. "But there's limits. He has to follow the law, this artist, like everyone else."

During a visit to the now blank wall Friday morning, some residents voiced support for the artist and his work.

"That doesn't sound right," said 47 year resident Danny Rayborn. "I think it was good for the neighborhood."

Longtime Bridgeport resident James Blevins agreed.

"I thought it was great," said Blevins. "I don't see why they were offended by it. They painted the police boxes. Maybe some of the citizens were offended by the way the police abuse them."

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