After being defaced with hate speech, the mural honouring trans women of colour in downtown Ottawa has been repainted and will be permanently housed at a local community centre.
Artist Kalkidan Assefa painted the mural as part of Queer Pride celebrations in August 2015. The following month, it was defaced with spray-painted messages including “racist bullshit” and “all colors [sic] matter.”
Community members expressed outrage at the defacement, and Somerset Councillor Catherine McKenney said she reported the vandalism to police. Even before the defacement, a social media campaign was underway to move the mural from the corner of Bank and Somerset Streets to a safe, permanent home.
Assefa says the public should be able to see his repainted mural at its new home at McNabb Community Centre before Christmas.
“I just want to express my gratitude to the City of Ottawa and everybody who helped make this happen,” he says, adding he credits McKenney with doing most of the leg work to get municipal approval for the mural’s permanent installation.
“I was happy to contribute some paint supplies and to arrange for a permanent spot for the mural,” McKenney says. “This mural and its replacement after being destroyed is significant in the story it tells about our community and the need to recognize that some of our friends and neighbours are more vulnerable to discrimination and violence.”
Assefa, who collaborated with artist Allan Andre on a Sandra Bland mural in July 2015 that was also defaced, says repainting the trans women of colour mural took about a week and wasn’t an easy process emotionally.
“It was hard because I knew that it meant a lot to a lot of people, so they took [the defacement] very personally as well,” he says. “Having dealt with having had my work defaced already earlier in the summer, I’d kind of already gone through those emotions before so I kind of worked through it, but for other people I think it was pretty hard. For myself as well. It wasn’t fun. It was disappointing.”
He was also surprised that Ottawa police said the mural’s defacement wasn’t a hate crime.
“I think that’s unfortunate,” Assefa says. “I don’t know the exact letter of the law so I can’t comment on that, but I feel like it definitely was done with hateful intentions. I had heard that [police] had exhausted all leads in terms of their investigation, but they’ve never even spoken to me.”
Constable Marc Soucy says police can’t disclose if they spoke to Assefa or not, but confirms the investigation into the mural’s defacement is closed.
“The file was closed as there’s no witnesses and no suspects now,” he says. “If people have information about it, we’ll gladly take it and follow up on those leads, but for now there’s no other leads.”