You don’t normally see large outdoor murals in purely residential neighborhoods. But on this lunchtime bike ride in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, I happened upon a mural I had not seen before. Located on the side of a home at 73 W Street (MAP), near the corner of 1st & W Streets, the mural depicts a young African-American woman wearing a yellow tank top and red boxing gloves, and sporting what symbolically appears to be a black eye. Behind her is a colorful shooting starburst originating from a specific point behind her. Because it seemed to me to be somewhat out of place for the residential neighborhood where it is located, I researched it later after the ride. And the story I learned was as oddly intriguing as the mural itself.
The 34×15′ enamel and spray paint on brick mural is entitled “Boxer Girl”, and was created by a local artist named Lisa Marie Thalhammer. According to the artist, the image comes from a series of drawings created while she was participating in a mentorship program at D.C.’s nonprofit Transformer organization, and is about “the empowerment of women, the relationship between self esteem and athletics and the beauty within each individual’s personal struggle and journey.”
The artwork was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and was originally intended for a different location. However, that other venue fell through. It was at that point that Veronica Jackson, a local art collector and the principal of the Jackson Brady Design Group, which focuses on museum and art exhibition design, offered up its current location – her own Bloomingdale home.
After its completion in the spring of 2009, however, some of the nearby residents objected to the mural. Some described it as out of place for the neighborhood, while others called it a blight or simply bad art. Some even complained that the mural was graffiti featuring hidden gang code, and described it as too “ghetto” for the area. By fall of that year the opposition to the mural grew to the point that a meeting of the Bloomingdale Civic Association was scheduled to address residents’ demands that the work be removed or covered up, demands that the mayor’s office was reported to be considering at that time. Nothing came from the meeting, however, with members of the Civic Association contending that they had no procedure for reversing projects that were already funded.
But the dispute did not simply go away quietly. As part of a last-ditch effort to rid the neighborhood of Boxer Girl, one nearby resident actually asked police to determine if the mural caused an increase in crime in the neighborhood. When the statistics indicated that there had been a 55 percent decrease in crime during the time since the mural’s completion, that effort was abandoned.
Years after the murals creation, one of the neighbors who spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to have it painted over was reported to still not be on speaking terms with the homeowner on whose house the mural remains. But others have accepted it even if, like me, they think it looks a bit out of place. Yoko Ono once said, “Controversy is part of the nature of art and creativity.” And that certainly seems to be the case for Boxer Girl. But I have to say, the mural also seems to realize the artist’s hope that the image would “brighten the neighborhood”.