the strange and frustrating case of the destroyed northcote women’s mural

We asked the council why they painted over the feminist messages left on the vandalised piece.

by Wendy Syfret
03 March 2016, 5:50am

Image via Facebook

Although faded and to some forgotten, the Smith St women's mural in Melbourne's Northcote was an important part of the local landscape. Bomboniere to Barbed Wire was painted on the wall of the Gas and Fuel depot in 1986 by local artist Eve Glenn and Megan Evans. The piece celebrated the lives, work, histories and cultures of women living in the area. For the past 30 years, as the suburb's population has changed it served as a friendly reminder of what the area was about: community, creativity and women working together to create a great place to live.

The mural before it was destroyed.

That was until last week when local tagger Nost bombed the site with their trademark scrawl. They defaced the mural so extensively that City of Yarra mayor Roberto Colanzi said it could not be saved. In a statement to i-D he said, "It cannot be cleaned without further destroying the artwork. Council has reported this vandalism to Victoria Police. This vandal has been randomly tagging murals done by local and international street artists."

In the days since the tag has sat as a taunting eyesore to residents, at worst painful statement on sexism, at best total apathy towards the local community. Many of the women who were included in the mural in the 80s were locals, and they have spoken out about how the mural's destructions essentially erased their history in the area. The original artists chose to paint women who weren't expressly visible in other forms of media at the time, they included indigenous, Greek and elderly women. Much of the most visible backlash has come from young women currently living in and around Northcote, Fitzroy and Collingwood.

Social media has been flooded with individuals sharing their own feelings and memories of the piece. Often their experiences reach back to childhood and are tied in with their own families and stories.

When it became clear that there was little that could be done to restore the mural, several women decided to make their opinions felt. Nost's tag was covered in feminist graffiti declaring, "Nost is a dickhead" and "Fuck the patriarchy". The words didn't bring the work back, but it was strangely comforting, and a tidy reminder that local women were still working together to make their presence visible.

That was until yesterday, when the council painted over the feminist messages. While it's understandable that getting rid of the offending Nost name would be a big job that could take a while, it was confusing why they would spend any time preserving it. Immediately the image of the council worker, roller in hand, was shared on social media.

In the statement to i-D mayor Colanzi explained the decision to remove the women's messages: "The cherished 'Bomboniere to Barbed Wire' mural in Fitzroy North was recently vandalised for a second time. Council obscured this new layer of graffiti, as it was itself offensive." Perhaps it was the cussing, but to hear the feminist message described at "offensive" certainly doesn't feel great. 

While the whole situation is undoubtedly a bummer, plans are already being made by local women to team up with the original artists and restore the piece themselves. Seems like it will take more than shit graffiti to destroy community spirit.


Text Wendy Syfret

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