“It’s not adding to the mural—it’s subtracting from it,” twenty-two year old Theresa said.
Theresa doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but she noticed that people started to write their opinions responding to the sexual harassment young women experienced in the community. The “Respect is the Strongest Compliment” mural located at Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn was painted last year by females under eighteen, who want to display “the inner turmoil” they feel as women, according to Nekita Blue, an African American who painted four murals with Groundswell.
Groundswell gathers youths “to use art as a tool for social change, for a more just and equitable world,” according to the Groundswell site. Through this project, youths bring attention to the issues they face in their community.
Despite the time and effort these youths put into the mural, people scribble remarks over it, such as a “Very True” pointing at the butt of a painted female figure or “Hypocrisy” in another area.
When another fellow artist sent Blue a SnapChat message of the remarks, she said, “it made me sad that this person didn’t take the time out to understand the message we were trying to make clear.” She also said that the goal of the mural was not to change the world, but to get the people to stop and think about the bigger picture and recognize sexual harassment as an issue in the community. According to Blue, the figures in the mural represent real experiences of the artists.
Allison Keene, a twenty-four year old, who recently moved to the neighborhood, said that the responses from the community draw focus to a bigger question: what is art? She said, “The annotations can contribute to the overall artwork if the original artists meant for it to be a multi-artists project.” Keene also said that the mural is in a “public accessible place” so it’s perhaps “meant to be acted on.”
Blue also said, “The ultimate goal of the mural was to bring awareness and start conversations.” While the group was painting last summer, they engaged in many conversations with the general public addressing the sexual harassment issue.
However, Bailey, an individual who works at the Housing Authority, said the scribbles “take away from the value” of the mural. “It’s similar to bringing people to your house and they bring mud with them—it ruins the original image.” He considers the feedback to be “plain vandalism”.