New Yorkers Protest Mural Showing "Strong Women"

Sofia Maldonado was commissioned by the Times Square Alliance to create a mural in one of the most famous intersections in the world. But some people - including Fox reporters -aren't too happy about Maldonado's choice of subjects.

Maldonado is a Puerto Rican/Cuban artist who describes her work on her website as showing "an evident blend of fashion trends, the Latina female aesthetic and various street culture elements." Fittingly, the Times Square mural is loud, large (it stretches 92 feet down West 42nd), vibrant, and suddenly controversial.

There didn't actually seem to be too much outrage, until Fox News stepped in and asked several bystanders and a community advocate what they thought of the piece. Tony Herbert found the mural offensive and disrespectful to Black and Latina women. "Women should be depicted with cell phones and briefcases, that's to show the professionalism of how women have broken the glass ceiling to accomplish what they've accomplished, not to come back to this," he told Fox 5 reporters. Another woman was upset that it wasn't more inspirational: ""What I want to see is something that motivates me, something that makes me want to be more than I am."

At the end of the segment, Maldonado gets a chance to speak, and she seems pretty happy that her mural has generated so much discussion. She counters the claims that it shows a negative stereotype by pointing out that she is representing "a female aesthetic that normally isn't seen in Times Square. Women who dress like this should be respected in society the same way as women with briefcases." She says the women in her mural are strong women with strong, healthy bodies. Her interest in street culture further informs the depiction of women - and the resulting anger. These are not the women people want to see in the tourist capital of New York. Not only do they lack briefcases, but they reflect a type of femininity that is rarely celebrated in mainstream culture. A few of them are dressed in revealing clothing, which has lead some to suggest that Maldonado painted a group of prostitutes, but alongside a woman wearing a tiny top and long nails is a skateboarder gliding through the red background and a lady with a knuckleduster that reads "Liberated." The figures are connected by a certain aesthetic, but they are also individuals, a variety of different women, deserving of no less respect than a woman in a business suit.

But the detractors will not be swayed. A group of angry New Yorkers came together last night to protest Maldonado's mural and ask that it be removed from Times Square. The rally was organized in party by social networking group New York City Black Professionals and aimed to "defend the honor" of minority women. Their call to arms calls the mural a "slap in the face:"

This is not even about the Latina artist and or her expression of how she sees NY she was only painting what they commissioned her to do in order to get her paycheck. They had the power to say no, this is not what we wanted, however they did not and the end result was a slap in the face of every woman of black and brown decent.

Our sisters pay taxes, they spend money in this city and they help to raise up our communities, we cannot allow or afford these racial bigots to be the only ones to be seen and heard. Please come out and lets strike a blow for all the woman in our city.

The real question seems to boil down to whether or not Maldonado's images are perpetuating negative stereotypes, or simply reflecting a specific fashion aesthetic. After reading about her work, and searching through some of her other pieces, I'm inclined to go with the latter. Why should we view these figures in a negative light? There isn't too much information available about the rally, which leads me to think that maybe not that many people actually showed up. So far there is no word about the mural's future, but it is currently slated to stay up until April 30th.

Fox News Continues To Help "Controversial" Artist [Animal New York]
Protesters Gather For Times Square Mural Takedown [Gothamist]
Latina Artist/Muralist Draws Fire For Her Depiction Of Women Of Color [Racialicious]
Something Fishy In Times Square [Loose World]
Sofia Maldonado [Official Website]
Looking Hard At Looking Good [NYT]