Anna Camilleri is beyond frustrated by the continued defacement of a public artwork she helped create — but she’s not backing down.
Camilleri and Tristan R Whiston are the artists behind an LGBT mural on the Pan Am Path along the Humber River. Since its unveiling in June 2015, it has been tagged with homophobic messages on four separate occasions— including vandalism that was reported to police on Aug 9, 2015.
“I feel really frustrated. We can’t just let the damage stand, ’cause I do think words are powerful, and so how the work is being vandalized, what’s being added to the artwork is I think quite hateful,” Camilleri says.
Leaving the vandalism, she says, is not an option. Repairing the mural has involved one to two days of work after each of the four incidents.
Sergeant Stephanie Paraskevopulos of 11 Division describes the tagging as “veiled anti-homosexual graffiti,” with the messages “traditional family values,” “hetrosexual [sic] pride ” and “hetrosexual [sic] love” written on the mural in black spray paint.
The artwork, which was created to highlight the contributions of LGBT people in sports and to celebrate diverse family types, is a painting of long, skinny figures in different colours linked together on columns supporting a bridge along the Humber Path.
Camilleri says she’s “baffled” by the vandalism, because the mural doesn’t contain an explicit message and is meant to be open to interpretation.
“Anybody could find themselves in the artwork. Somebody who is queer, somebody who is not queer, anybody who is part of a family,” she says.
“I think whoever is vandalizing the artwork has found that the existence of LGBT people objectionable, and is projecting that on to this artwork, which could be interpreted in a lot of different ways.”
The messages in the vandalism don’t align with the views of the local community, according to Louise Garfield, executive director of Arts Etobicoke, the group that co-produced the artwork.
“The majority of people who utilize the path, cyclists and walkers and runners, and the people who pass by it, are very much supportive of the artwork and the artists and the message,” she says.
The group behind the mural has decided to visit the site once a week and is also discussing whether other materials could be used that could better protect the artwork.
An investigation is ongoing, but police have not yet determined any suspects.
“This is a pretty busy area. The damage that’s been done in the past, it looks like it would take some time to do,” staff sergeant Devin Kealey says. “We feel there’s people out there who possibly know who’s responsible for this, and we would definitely like them to come forward with that information.
In the meantime, Camilleri is looking to the LGBT community for potential actions.
“I guess I’m interested in, more than what I have to say . . . how do other people feel? And do they have any ideas about how they would like to respond? Because it is public artwork, it’s our artwork.”
Police encourage anyone with information about the vandalism to contact 11 Division or Crime Stoppers.