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Ottawa mural defaced with hate messages

Artwork honouring trans women of colour will have to be redone

Before being defaced, Kalkidan Assefa’s mural honouring trans women of colour was looking for a permanent home. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

An Ottawa mural honouring trans women of colour will have to be completely redone after it was destroyed by vandalism the week of Sept 21, 2015.

The mural, located at Bank and Somerset, was painted by artist Kalkidan Assefa as part of Ottawa’s Pride festivities in August.

Paint was splashed over the mural, and the messages “Racist Bullshit,” “All lives matter,” “No double standards” and “You’ve been warned” were spray painted over top of it.

Assefa described the incident as “disappointing.”

“It’s unfortunate that we still face that kind of backlash,” he said.

The vandalism was reported to Ottawa police on Sept 24, 2015, around noon. There are no suspects at this time.

Constable Marc Soucy said the vandalism is not a first for the area.

“We’ve had similar occurrences in the past. We’ve had similar artwork defaced or stolen or degraded,” he said.

The accompanying text to the artwork initially read: “Rest in Power. #sayhername All Black Lives Matter because if your liberation is not bound up in mine, then what is the point?”

The day before the mural was more extensively vandalized, someone had crossed out the word “black” in “Black Lives Matter” and written “all,” Assefa says.

“From my experience, there’s a dedicated group of people in this city who refuse to even begin having the conversation about [. . .] the way non-white people experience our society,” he adds. “The continued violent erasure directed at Black Lives Matter, and artwork honouring black women, black and Indigenous solidarity, and trans women of colour speaks to the problem.”

Messages of support and offers to help have been pouring in through Twitter.

“Stand strong. Your work is beautiful and will transcend. Whoever vandalized your work is a bigoted bully. #Ottawa,” read one message.

Another person wrote: “I heard the mural was destroyed. I don’t know what I can do, but if you need help/support with anything I’ll do my best.”

“The community response has always been very positive,” Assefa says. “People kind of take ownership of these murals once you do them and they set up, like, patrols and vigils and stand guard on them, and keep an eye on them, and make sure no people further vandalize them. And they even carry paint and fix them up when it gets vandalized.”

He says that while the mural no longer stands, people are still monitoring the area.

This is not the first time Assefa has had to contend with vandalism of his artwork. Earlier this summer, a mural he worked on of Sandra Bland was defaced.

Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, died in police custody in Texas. Her death was classified as a suicide by police, a finding disputed by her family.

The acts of vandalism won’t stop Assefa from creating similar artwork.

“I’ll continue to paint no matter. My subject matter is always going to be what I think is relevant.”