The front of Kmart as of Tuesday. The mural that was deemed "triggering" by the community has been removed. Photo: Alicia Eler for Star Tribune.
After sparking outrage on social media, a mural titled "Reconciliation," depicting a police officer hugging a Black protester and painted on the front of the Kmart in south Minneapolis, is now gone, apparently painted over.
The cop in the mural was reportedly supposed to represent Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo, though the image appears to be closely based on an Associated Press photograph of New York City police chief Terence Monahan hugging an activist last month. The mural was created by artist Christina Marie (@christina.marie.g), who posted it to her Instagram account on June 26.
The mural was created as part of the "Let the Healing Begin: Racial Reconciliation and Restoration Mural Project," also known as #lakestreetprayerwall, a music, art and prayer rally that took place on June 27. Murals were painted on the front of Kmart between June 15-26. The event was organized by Pastor Peter Wohler, executive director of the Source MN, a faith-based organization that works with at-risk populations and sponsors the Fallout Arts Initiative.
"Friends, here is an example of some of the gaslighting and nonsense we as Black people have to deal with in this town," wrote Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, on her Facebook page. "A white artist created this mural .... How out of touch can a person be with reality and what is needed in this moment of frustration, loss, trauma, and grief in our community? This ain't it."
The artist did not respond for comment.
Wohler, the pastor, said that no one contacted them to talk about the mural. He said that pieces were removed over two separate nights, and then on Sunday, July 5, activists showed up and began to take down and deface the mural. He said they would not engage in conversation about the mural or what it meant.
"We were trying to politely engage," he said "We asked them politely to stop and they wouldn't until we suggested we then take it down ourselves."
Wohler said that when he tried to get between them and the mural they "attacked me physically, punched me in the back repeatedly and spray painted me across the arms and chest."
The artist's original Instagram post now has over 1,000 comments criticizing the work.
"Imagine painting SS officers hugging Jews in Nazi Germany. That's what this is. That's what you are," wrote user aileenwuornosfan, in the comments.
Earlier in June, Kmart management had rejected an offer to have murals painted on the front of the soon-to-be demolished property because it did not want to have any art that could be seen as "political" on the building. Artists from the #creativesaftercurfew crew, including Leslie Barlow and Ryan Stopera, were turned away from Kmart on June 2, as previously reported by the Star Tribune.
Wohler continued conversations with Kmart and they agreed to allow the larger mural project that took place in June. Wohler said that many people were crying in front of the mural and taking selfies, and that the mural was intended to be an expression of healing.
Wohler insisted that the officer depicted in the mural was "obviously the Minneapolis police chief," he said. "I'm sad that no one ever tried to have a conversation with us."
Source MN issued a statement on its website Wednesday regarding the takedown of the "Reconciliation" mural, apologizing to artists of color.
"We realize that this may have been perceived as being political or insensitive," the organization wrote in a statement. It noted that while 75% of the wall space was created by artists of color and a third by Black artists, "we could have done much more to engage with black artists."
UPDATE (July 9): Artist Leslie Barlow, who is Black, clarified to the Star Tribune that Wohler originally got the smartphone image concept approved by a Kmart manager, and that Barlow and the #creativesaftercurfew group were supposed to create the work. "The white Kmart manager saw who we were, and reversed his approval, calling the ideas 'anarchist,'" she said. "All Peter did was get a group of mostly white artists to paint a more sanitized version of the same projects we were supposed to do."