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New York City’s latest piece of monumental street art is facing some stiff opposition. On Christmas Eve, artist Carolina Falkholt completed a mural of a massive phallus on the building at 303 Broome Street, intending to stir broad discussions about gender and sexuality. Bright pink and very rigid, the penis stretches four stories in length, and outraged community leaders are already calling for its immediate removal.
The work was commissioned by The New Allen, a local art foundation run by Peruvian restaurant Baby Brassa, which opened in the neighborhood a year and a half ago. As Lower East Side blog The Lo-Down first reported, Naomi Pena, president of District 1’s Community Education Council, emailed her concerns to Baby Brassa shortly after the mural was painted. Copying local elected officials to her message, Pena described Falkholt’s phallus as “the most disgusting display of art I’ve seen.
“Contrary to what developers and the folks you see in the street, there are thousands of people in this neighborhood who are raising their children here,” she continued. “I would hope your organization would at least provide some basic protocols for your artists when producing art… or at the very least implore them not to produce something that would piss off parents like your organization just did!”
Anger is also swelling in The Lower East Side Facebook group, where locals beat on the piece through a rich variety of unfavorable descriptions, including “not art,” “unspeakable,” and “Out of Control.” Many also questioned whether the building’s owner, Samy Mahfar, was consulted.
The New Allen’s co-founder Milan Kelez told Hyperallergic that the mural was created in collaboration with The New Museum for its current exhibition, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon, which explores the fluidity of gender. He did not say whether the foundation had spoken with Mahfar. Falkholt’s mural, Kelez said, will change throughout January 2018, as the project is intended to address a number of social issues, including sexual exploration and sexual abuse. However, a spokesperson for the New Museum told Hyperallergic that the Museum is not involved in the mural, and that it is not a collaboration with the Museum.
Falkholt, a Swedish artist working as a resident at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, often creates large-scale, realistic views of the human body, particularly of vaginas. A few days before starting her penis mural, she also painted a monumental vulva on 56 Pike Street, by the LES skate park. Perhaps because it hasn’t received as much media exposure as its phallic partner, or because the painted flesh is decorated with abstract patterns, but the yonic mural is so far subject to less backlash.
Falkholt firmly defended her phallic mural in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “To paraphrase Judith Bernstein, if a dick can go into a woman, it can go up on a wall,” she wrote. “Many of my murals, including these, are about not feeling ashamed of your body and who you are as a sexual being. You can be a woman with a cock and a man with a pussy at the same time. Or something else—whatever you want to be. It is all up to yourself, and not society, to decide what gender you are.” She continues:
We live in cultures where sexual violence and sexual abuse are constantly happening. And there are a lot of raped and abused children who have lost their voices due to the shame that comes with having their own bodies violated at a young age.
No more bodyshaming. Talking about these subjects in public space is a must for a healthy, nonviolent community/world. And the dialogue created around feminist public art pieces raises awareness.
Art is one of the only places left where we can truly be free and discuss whatever difficult topics there are, since art has the ability to translate and transform language in any direction possible.
Update, 12/27/2017, 3:15pm EST: Workers have already begun painting over the mural. According to NBC 4 New York, neither Falkholt nor The New Allen received permission from the building’s owner to plaster a giant phallus on his property, and he has ordered it to be covered up. The painting is reportedly also in violation of Department of Buildings rules.
Update, 12/28/2017, 9:45am EST: Falkholt’s mural on Broome Street had been completely painted over by the time Hyperallergic visited the site at 9am on Thursday. Only a faint outline of the mural remained.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Sutton