A mural by Angel Diaz on the northeast corner of a vacant building at Polk Street and 15th Avenue was recently vandalized.
The mural depicts former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Text along the bottom of the mural reads: “We’ve Had Enough! Joe Must Go!”
The mural was painted during the run-up to the November 2016 elections, says Beatrice Moore. Moore is a Phoenix-based artist and historic preservation activist. She owns the building and several additional properties in the area, along with fellow artist and longtime partner Tony Zahn.
The vandalism likely took place Tuesday night, Moore says.
“It’s hard to tell who did it, but it doesn’t look like taggers,” she says. The marks they made provide some clues, however. It’s crudely done, and includes the words “Jesus Lives” along with a silver heart.
The defaced mural is one of many painted by Diaz throughout downtown Phoenix. His most political offering is a long mural painted on a brick wall off an alleyway behind Barrio Café on 16th Street. That one tackles immigration, incarceration, and other social justice themes.
Locals know that part of 16th Street, located just south of Thomas Road, as Calle 16. It’s named for a mural project launched in 2010 by Barrio Café owner and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and several local artists. The project started as a protest against SB 1070, an Arizona law that targeted undocumented immigrants.
Much of the Barrio Café building is covered with works by beloved muralists, including local legend Lalo Cota and internationally renowned El Mac, who grew up in Phoenix.
One of El Mac’s murals was recently at the center of controversy in Roosevelt Row. He painted the piece with Augustine Kofie in 2009. It’s located on a building sold last year to Chandler-based Viking Development, which has displaced several local businesses in the process of creating a mixed-use development called The Blocks of Roosevelt Row.
“I’m not surprised that someone went after Angel’s mural,” Moore says of the Arpaio work. “You have to expect that those things will happen when you make work in the public sphere.”
And Moore is no stranger to people taking issue with political art.
After President Donald Trump was elected, Beatrice Moore invited Calfornia-based Karen Fiorito to create art for an anti-Trump billboard located over one of her properties along Grand Avenue. The piece features a central image of Trump against the backdrop of nuclear mushroom clouds. He’s flanked by a pair of symbols combining swastika and dollar sign imagery.
About a month ago, someone splattered the billboard using paintballs, Moore says. “Only the dollar signs were hit,” Moore says. She says it's entirely possible a local business owner who was unhappy about having the swastika-like images hovering over the area was responsible, rather than Trump supporters. The billboard has a surveillance camera now, but didn’t at the time, Moore notes.
Even so, it’s clear that plenty of artists aren’t big fans of President Trump. Some are using art to share their disdain. Last November, Fine Art Complex 1101 included an anti-Trump poster in an exhibition exploring election-related themes, including immigration. The gallery was vandalized with a strip of white spray paint across part of an exterior wall, and owner Grant Vetter reported getting death threats at the time.
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In January, gallerist Laura Dragon worked with several local artists to present a “Nasty Women” exhibition at Grand ArtHaus. The show was part of an international art movement aimed at resisting Trump’s policies, and all proceeds from art sales went to the local Planned Parenthood branch.
Lisa Sette Gallery confronted the new political reality as well, with an exhibition she titled "Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why (Why Can't We Live Together?)". Featured works addressed issues from immigration to black victims of violence.
Moore isn’t sure what will become of the defaced Diaz mural moving forward. As of this writing, Diaz was in Hawaii, and New Times has yet to reach him for comment. It’s possible, Moore says, that a new mural will go up in its place. But there’s every reason to believe the next mural might be vandalized as well.
“When you do murals or outdoor art installations, you’re vulnerable to people who want to tear it up,” Moore says. “That’s just the way it is.”