Damage on the Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence in Minneapolis (all images courtesy Lori Greene unless otherwise noted)

A public artwork dedicated to victims of sexual assault has been vandalized twice this year in Minneapolis. Most recently, the face of a central figure in the panel — one of several women portrayed — was completely destroyed.

The Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence at Boom Island Park, created by Black and Indigenous artist Lori Greene, is the first permanent memorial to rape survivors in the United States. On three concrete columns beside the Mississippi River, five colorful mosaic panels reference the experiences of non-White, LGBTQ+, and disabled victims. 

The first incident in mid-May resulted in several lashes on the tiles composing a Black man’s torso, as well as damage to the granite sidings and donor recognition bricks. Then, in mid-October, the face of a Black woman was smashed on the same panel. A spokesperson for the Park Police Department told Hyperallergic that they are currently investigating both incidents but have not identified any suspects.

The Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence in Boom Island Park

The police have not classified the attacks as hate crimes, but for Greene, who is herself a survivor, these incidents reflect a culture of racism and misogyny that transcends Minneapolis.

“It’s just so offensive to attack a space that is built for healing,” Greene told Hyperallergic. “I have been so honored to receive emails, handwritten letters, and phone calls from people I do not know claiming the artwork has helped them heal. That is the reason we built this, and it breaks my heart to know somebody would go there to cause more pain.”

In shades of red, blue, and yellow, Greene details a narrative of suffering and overcoming across multiple seasons. On the first panel, a genderless figure in a fetal position represents the universality of rape victims. Each successive panel incorporates more women and gender-nonconforming supporters, culminating in an entire community standing together on an autumn day. 

The columns containing the panels are bordered by dark granite slabs with the phrases “You Are Not Alone,” “We Believe You,” and “We Stand with You,” and installed along a sidewalk chosen specifically for secure visibility. Still, Greene claimed that the damage must have been inflicted with tools and a ladder, as some of the marks appeared to be more than seven feet high. 

Lori Greene in front of the Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Originally conceived in 2015 following the rape of Minneapolis community organizer Sarah Super, the memorial was installed in 2020 with the help of Damon Farber Landscape Architects. Notable donors include feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. A dedication ceremony was held virtually in October 2020 with speeches from #MeToo co-founder Tarana Burke and Vagina Monologues playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler). 

Greene recalled working on the third panel when George Floyd was murdered in downtown Minneapolis and noted that the first vandalism occurred shortly after the Buffalo supermarket shooting. This timing, she claims, is no coincidence.

“It just feels like an extension of the constant attack on Black people in our country,” she added. “Obviously art is threatening to people, as are people’s pain and anger. Whoever did this, they are clearly not happy with what it represents.”

It remains unclear whether the two incidents are connected, and a digital police report was not readily available. Minneapolis police declined to comment, but the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board told Hyperallergic in a statement that they are working to bolster the Memorial’s safety in the future.

Damage on the Memorial to Survivors of Sexual Violence in Minneapolis

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.