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Greenway visitors speak out on mural controversy

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  August 8, 2012 06:26 PM

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Brennan and Os Gemeos.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Greenway Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Brennan, second from left, visited Dewey Square and the Os Gemeos mural as part of a day-long celebration of the new piece of art on Wednesday.

Boston residents and visitors spoke out Wednesday against anti-Muslim statements made on-line in response to a temporary mural on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

“I think that reaction comes from a place of fear rather than a place of inclusion,” said Jeff Stineback, 35, as he shared lunch with his wife Jenn Stineback Wednesday afternoon.

Stineback, a Dorchester resident, said it made him angry to read about the comments written by Facebook users after Fox 25 posted a photo on Saturday of the new mural overlooking Dewey Square, because they planted the idea in his head, making it difficult not to not think of the the figure in those terms, though it hadn’t occurred to him before.

As was first reported at BostInno, Fox 25 asked viewers what they thought the painting of a crouching figure with a garment wrapped around its head looked like. Many replied with words such as “terrorist,” “Taliban,” or “Arab.”

The controversy emerged just one day before a man with white supremacist ties went on a shooting rampage inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Because men in the Indian faith cover their hair with turbans and women often wear turbans or head scarves, Sikhs have sometimes been mistaken for Muslims and targeted for anti-Muslim actions.

By Wednesday, the Fox 25 Facebook post had nearly 600 comments, many of them critical of the early commenters and calling for greater understanding of Muslim people.

The 70-foot-by-70-foot painting on the side of the air intake structure between Summer and Congress streets is the work of Brazilian brothers Otávio and Gustavo Pandolfo, who collaborate under the name “Os Gêmeos” — Portuguese for “twins.”

It was executed, as was another mural at the Revere Hotel, as a companion to an Os Gêmeos exhibition on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art from Aug. 1 – Nov. 25.

Speaking during a day of Brazilian- and art-themed activities in the Dewey Square Park Wednesday, Greenway Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Brennan said she supported a viewer’s right to interpret art however he or she will.

“Art is all about interaction with the viewer. Whether Michelangelo or Os Gêmeos, they’re counting on that exchange and don’t try to enforce how you’re going to interpret it,” Brennan said.

But she felt some of the comments made on Facebook crossed the line.

“At the same time that the Greenway has always stood by the First Amendment and freedom of speech, going beyond that to biased ethnic slurs is too much,” she said.

Brennan hopes those who have questions about the image or feel offended by it will visit the conservancy’s website or the ICA site to learn more about Os Gemeos.

Marcela Moyses, who is from São Paulo, Brazil, and a fan of Os Gêmeos, stopped by the mural on Wednesday to see it in person and snap a photo with her iPhone. She said a Brazilian would be unlikely to see the figure as a Muslim or an Arab. She thought it looked more like a Brazilian from the country’s poorer classes.

“It’s funny to look at this and think about terrorists,” Moyses said. “It’s sad [to] associate people from another country with a bad thing. Usually people who say things like this don’t even know about the culture of a country.”

Nearby, five friends from New Hampshire stopped to look at the mural. They were in Boston for the day and had asked a local for tips on fun things to see. He sent them to Dewey Square.

“We don’t see stuff like this in New Hampshire,” said Leilani Winters, 20, who, like most of the others, lives in Loudon, N.H.

She and the other young women praised the image for its bright colors and the dramatic effect that such a large piece of art had on the neighborhood. They were disappointed to hear that it is planned to be removed when the Os Gêmeos exhibit ends in November.

“I think it should be permanent. I think it should stay here,” said Jessika Spottiswood, 22.

Asked to describe the image, none of the women mentioned terrorists or any negative associations. They hadn’t heard about the controversy until a reporter explained it. They were disappointed, but not all were surprised.

“It came to mind because of the stereotypical turban, but it’s obviously a sweatshirt,” Spottiswood said of the garment wrapped around the figure’s head.

“What terrorist do you think would ever be that brightly colored?” mused Abbey Dow, 22. “I thought about his shirt and pants first, before I ever thought about his head wrap.”

“People are obnoxious,” Spottiswood said. “The US is a melting pot. End of story.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

NH friends and Os Gemeos.jpg

(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

New Hampshire residents Leilani Winters, Kaila Waterman, Abbey Dow, Nicole Brown, and Jessika Spottiswood visited the Os Gemeos mural on Wednesday.

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