A worker painted over a series of Black Lives Matter murals on a construction fence on Fourth Avenue in Gowanus on June 9, in an incident the developer of the site claims was a “gargantuan misunderstanding.”
“This person did it with no bad intentions. She simply thought that she was doing the work she was supposed to be doing. She did not realize that she was accidentally painting over the artwork,” said Brian Ezra, a principal at Avery Hall Investments, which owns the lot between Sackett and Union streets. “It was a gargantuan misunderstanding.”
Passers-by noticed the woman slapping on a coat of green paint on top of the murals Tuesday morning, but she told one local she was just doing her job.
“She didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Spanish, but she told me it’s not her choice,” said Chris Reynolds, a Gowanus documentary filmmaker who posted a picture on Twitter of her halfway through finishing the job.
Another onlooker lamented the loss of the works, but said she didn’t like how some white bystanders were harassing the woman simply for doing her job, and that blame should instead go toward the developer.
“People were berating her and were being rude to her, she was being filmed, and it was very obvious that she was just doing her job and that it’s not her fault, it’s whoever owns this lot’s fault,” said Phoenix Lindsey-Hall. “It was almost a microcosm of white privilege of people going up to a brown woman who’s painting over something for Black Lives Matter.”
Ezra said that the worker is an independent contractor who usually cleans up the developer’s construction sites, occasionally removing graffiti. He claimed that Avery Hall Investments did not give her any directives to cover up the artwork, but said that she performed the job because Phase 1 of the city’s post-COVID-19 reopening on June 8 allowed for non-essential construction work like cleaning sites to resume.
“She had no direction from us whatsoever to go paint over the art work,” Ezra said. “She thought that it was time for her to recommence things like site cleanups because of Phase 1.”
A spokesman for the developer later added that, because the woman doesn’t speak English, she didn’t know what the murals said, and Ezra declined to share the worker’s name for fear of her facing retribution.
“We’re not going to release or reveal her name. We wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, it’s not like it was her fault,” Ezra said.
The building firm noticed that graffiti artists had started painting over their green construction fence a little more than a week ago with some muralists calling it the “Wall of Justice.” According to Ezra, the company reached out to one of the artists, who goes by the name Subway Doodle, to expand on it in the coming days by attaching an artwork to the canopy of the lot’s disused gas station.
“We reached out to the artist and expressed how much we appreciated the work he was doing,” Ezra said. “We didn’t go public because we didn’t think there was any need to.”
They have since asked the artists to help restore the covered works, which Subway Doodle catalogued on his Instagram page during the last week.
The street artist, who joined others in starting to repaint a new mural Tuesday afternoon, said that while he was sad to see his work destroyed, he was glad it wasn’t done by some bigot.
“At first we thought it was some racist vandal, so I was relieved to find out it was just an innocent mistake from someone who didn’t really know what it was,” said Subway Doodle, who requested not to be quoted by his real name.
The developers plan to eventually erect a 17-story residential tower at the site and have in the past offered to install a fancy $11 million subway entrance to the R train’s Bay Ridge-bound platform at the structure’s base to allow them to build that high.
City buildings regulations state that construction fences “shall be painted hunter green,” but officials have in the past launched an initiative dubbed City Canvas to allow artists to paint over them to make them more appealing.
The Fourth Avenue wall is not under that program, but Ezra said that, even though he wasn’t sure about the regulations, the artwork just “felt right.”
“It’s a great question, I have to admit I don’t really know, but when the artist started doing the work, it felt right to us,” he said.
The developer’s spokesman later confirmed that the company would keep working with the contracted cleaner, despite the snafu.