Headless woman mural stirs controversy
If the role of art is to open minds, push boundaries and create dialogue, then German urban artist Andres Von Chrzanowski (a.k.a. CASE or CASE Maclaim) has done just that with his massive mural in the heart of Milwaukee's Third Ward.
Covering the north side of the Dye House building, 320 E. Buffalo St., the photo-realistic mural is of a sitting female figure wearing a white work apron. The model is Milwaukee chef / butcher Karen Bell, the owner of Bavette.
According to the artist the mural pays homage to the women workers who dyed the hosiery at the Phoenix Hosiery company that once occupied the building and to working women everywhere. In previous works that appear throughout the world, Von Chrzanowski focused heavily on a figure's hands, which are also emphasized in this piece.
But in terms of body parts, the absence of the figure's head is the most noticeable and causing controversy on social media.
According to Stacey Williams-Ng, the founder of Wallpapered City – a group that's the liaison for many Milwaukee murals – before pitching for the job, Von Chrzanowski and his wife Samira requested background on Milwaukee, specifically the Third Ward.
"When we told them about the hosiery-dyeing business that was there in the 1920s, they asked us to send historic photos and ads," says Williams-Ng. "They were surprised that the early ads were not as objectifying of women as we all suspected they might be. The pose of the model is actually based loosely on an early Phoenix Hosiery ad. It's a celebration of women's work, past and present."
But some Milwaukeeans don't sense the celebration aspect of the mural.
"Instead of paying homage to the women who used to dye nylons in the building in the '20s, and working women and workers in general, in my opinion it makes those workers faceless and by doing that implies they are forgettable and disposable. I don't feel honored as a woman that works for a living, just silenced, if you will," says Lisa Malmorowski, an artist and the director of brand and store development for Outpost Natural Foods.
Williams-Ng says that Von Chrzanowski was really enamored with Bell's apron because she's a James Beard award-winning butcher and chef. Thus, he focused on her torso, along with her hands, rather than her face.
For some, intellectual understanding of an artist's intent doesn't mitigate their visceral responses or feelings.
"I know what the artist was going for here, but it still bothers me, having a headless woman loom over Downtown Milwaukee," Jessica Rose commented on Facebook. "Women feel particularly threatened in our current political climate and this is a constant reminder. It's just too much."
Although opinions vary on the mural, all seem to share the belief that the piece is extremely skilled, impressive in scale and, most of all, getting people talking.
"I'm a big believer in art having the power to make people uncomfortable and generate conversation," says Malmorowski. "This mural does that."
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