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Asheville artist’s zombie murals miff Memphis
Tuesday, 02 January 2018 11:34

From Staff Reports 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Asheville-based artist Dustin Spagnola was one of more than 150 artists to participate in Paint Memphis, described as an annual street and graffiti art project.

It is headed by Karen Golightly, an assistant professor of English at Christian Brothers University.

This year, Golightly obtained permission to paint the walls of an underpass, two private buildings and a skatepark. The only rules were artists could not include in their works gang symbols, drugs, nudity or obscenity.

But Spagnola’s murals of zombies, replete with graphic images of rot and decay, became a topic of discussion for Memphis City Council. 

Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen referred to the art as “satanic, “totally distasteful,” and “despicable.” Constituents have been calling her to complain, some of whom she described as being “totally petrified.”

Swearengen’s colleague, Berlin Boyd, had previously objected to a mural of the Grim Reaper. He told reporters that it particularly sends a bad message when the murals hover over black communities, where death rates are disproportionately higher.

“That’s just rude,” he said of what he described as the “insensitive” art. The reaper was overpainted with an angel eight months ago, following an onslaught of complaints.

Councilman Joe Brown, however, took the role of devil’s advocate and asked if Swearengen only wanted to allow murals about her  religion.

Spagnola, who said the murals are not satanic, noted that he likes painting zombies because he finds them fun. He said he is glad he was able to stir controversy, because that shows people are paying attention to his work. He described the reaction of members of City Council as “incredibly closed-minded and very strange.”

Golightly said it is nearly impossible to vet artists. Her project covers 33,000 square feet, and artists are allowed to decide on-the-spot what they will paint. When asked if she thought the murals might be too frightening for children,  she said children would have to stop watching episodes of Scooby-Doo — if parents want to insulate them from scary images.



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