Solemnly and slowly, a woman dons and sheds a furry exterior, which then turns into a dog that proceeds to walk away.
Conceptually, this illustration might seem like a commentary on gender, sexuality, women’s rights, or perhaps the true nature of humanity.
But the mural is located within a neighborhood in close proximity to a church, a mosque, and an elementary school, and so the illustration has potentially lost its meaning. All that seems to matter to some is the woman’s nudity. Pornography, people have called it. It’s considered inappropriate by others.
Take a moment to consider the advertisements we see around Atlanta. Now, let’s consider the common definition of pornography: that which elicits sexual thoughts. Does an H&M billboard featuring a half-naked eighteen-year-old girl receive half as much outcry? No. Advertisements glamorizing alcohol consume the Atlanta skyline, and children observe these advertisements on a daily basis. As soon as an attention-grabbing mural is painted on neighborhood walls and not on a billboard, the context of the conversation changes.
The bottom line is that this mural does nothing to encourage sexual thoughts. The “real” danger is in the fact that it encourages thought in general. Thoughts about women, about sexuality, about natural and unnatural tendencies of mankind.
The news media seems to have sought out the controversy and turned it into a question of whether or not the mural is appropriate for our children, and therefore for our community. Local coverage of the event seems to have an “inappropriate until proven artful” perspective. No one seems to be stimulating a discussion as to why a nude woman has become inappropriate when it’s one of the most natural images in our lives.
The very fact that the female body has become a question of “appropriateness” in public art speaks volumes about the nature of our society today.
The very first forms of art and sculpture were those that hailed the human body as familiar, beautiful, and sacred. Fertility statues were created in homage to the sacred properties of the female anatomy. Now, we shun these aspects of ourselves in favor of more conservative views on behavior.
These conservative views only serve to oppress the most natural tendencies of humanity. This oppression leads to cathartic behavior in which men and women alike furtively seek outlets for their expression. We have so grown to overlook these subtle outlets in entertainment and advertising that the half-naked young girl suddenly becomes acceptable, and the nude woman symbolically shedding her fur becomes unacceptable. In a complete cycle, the shame we are taught to have for our own sexuality leads us to judge others based on how they artfully express theirs.
Living Walls, the City Speaks, the organization that commissioned Hyuro to paint the mural, has a clear message: to enlighten people to their surroundings. Here, they have succeeded. Conversations like this must occur in order for us to truly recognize how we have changed over the centuries, to reflect on whether these changes were really for the best, and to inspire ideas for change in the future.