The developers of Six Hundred West Main, a luxury apartment building that opened in September, promised the city a “gift” in the form of a public mural from internationally acclaimed artist Faith XLVII.
But some residents may want to give it back.
The mural, which was unveiled during the week of September 23, features a horse and the word “LIBERATE” against a dark green background. Working with the Charlottesville Mural Project, the artist, a white South African, designed the piece to pay “homage to the equine history of the area while subtly harkening to both historical and contemporary notions of Freedom that are tied strongly to Charlottesville’s identity,” according to the proposal.
“Looking at this mural, I’m guessing that maybe they meant residents could ‘LIBERATE’ themselves out of $2,200 for a 1BR,” tweeted Charlottesville journalist Jordy Yager, who posted a thread on the mural on September 25. Others chimed in to criticize the building, where rents range from $1,240 to more than $4,300, and which is set to expand to the University Tire site next door.
In an email, Yager pointed out that Six Hundred West Main is surrounded by two historically black neighborhoods, yet their residents were not invited to participate in the mural creation process.
“[This is] another example of integral voices being left out of the conversations that shape the city around us. Not only are key people being left out of the actual building, in terms of being able to afford to live there, but they’re also being left out of the art that they have to walk past every day,” says Yager.
To Charlottesville native Niya Bates, the horse image recalls the Confederate statues, and she finds it offensive and tone-deaf. On Twitter, Bates had previously called attention to the building’s “neighborhood guide,” which featured upscale spots like Purvelo and IX Art Park but excluded black businesses and institutions, calling it “a cheat code to gentrification 2.0.” She said the mural was also “a missed opportunity to elevate and work with someone in our own community.”
FaithXLVII, one of the most famous female street artists in South Africa, originally agreed to speak with C-VILLE for this story. But she later requested questions be sent by email, after which her publicist Kassia Rico responded by declaring that the submitted questions, which asked for Faith’s response to the controversy, were “biased,” and that the artist would not respond to them.
“Faith is an artist that is actively involved in promoting Human Rights, issues of LGBTQ, and Gender Equality. In her studio practice, the horse is a symbol that she is currently working with that stands for the freeing of oneself from various forms of oppression and it is about personal and social liberation,” Rico wrote.
“We hope the residents of Charlotsville [sic] can understand this artwork in this manner, and not the overtly political manner that you are suggesting.”
Faith later replied herself, saying “if anything, the artwork stands in direct opposition” to the Confederate monuments. She then sent a 172-word statement on the mural’s symbolism, featured below.
The issue, says resident and art historian Andrea Douglas, is that the mural “has nothing to do with the kinds of issues that Charlottesville is living with today…. In some ways it’s emblematic and correct. And in other areas it is absolutely in discord with the space that it wants to occupy.”
“The imagery of a rearing horse, sometimes bridled but with reigns flying loose, signifies a powerful animal which has been subjugated by humankind, and has finally broken free. The image of the horse carries with it the weight of nationalism and patriotism, and is associated with memorials and statues of statesmen and war “heroes”. Historically, they were the creatures men took to war, to fight and die alongside them with unrelenting loyalty. Inescapably majestic and elegant in their powerful and muscular form, horses have an inherent sense of nobility.
Within this discrepancy between their physical power and their subservience, they become archetypal symbols for notions of human power struggles, war, nationalism and blind loyalty to leadership. By unleashing or freeing these dignified creatures through these images, we understand their own sense of agency, independent from human quests, ultimately expressing their own innate power.
Shedding their shackles, the figures in this series conjure sentiments of resistance, revolution, and our individual, innate strength and ability to stand up to fascist rule and totalitarian power.” – FAITH XLVII
Updated 10/9/19 to provide complete quote from Andrea Douglas.