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Mural of tattooed RBG causes controversy in Anacostia

The California artist was commissioned by a Miami-based art collaborative.

WASHINGTON — A tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is causing controversy in the District. 

A group of Southeast advocates and artists find the mural so offensive and out of touch with the Anacostia community that they would like to cover it up with something more appropriate. The group said involving local kids and artists would be a start to help. 

The mural can be found on the side of the Far Southeast Family Collaborative building at 2004 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The local business Busboys and Poets is also located in that space.

Critics said their main concern is the muralist and the team that commissioned her are both out-of-towners. 

“It’s not my goal at all to upset people I want to inspire and empower people,” muralist Jules Muck said. 

Muck travels the country painting murals. Many of her larger-than-life characters sport tattoos — it's one of her trademarks. The California artist said she was in D.C. on a “Rock the Vote” project last October when the Miami-based group Murals for Humanity asked her to do an RBG memorial in Anacostia.

“Me not being from D.C., I did not have a lot of knowledge of the area,” Muck admitted. 

But the artist said about midway through the one-day project she talked to folks in the community who told her it wasn't a good fit.

“We asked for brown paint at that point, but there was no money in the budget to get the brown paint,” Muck recalled, “the choices were — walk away from a half-painted wall, or finish the mural.”

WUSA9 reached out to Murals for Humanity but did not hear back. Muck said she tried to fix the mural by adding tattoos of Anacostia, BLM and George Floyd, on RBG's forehead in the mural.

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“I did make a choice to add the George Floyd to keep him on the minds of the justices, which was my feeling about it,” Muck explained.

"She just didn't understand. She tried to save it, but she just missed it,Southeast artist and advocate Dee Dwyer said. “Sometimes as artists, we do that. But this is just not the community that’s just going to let that ride.”

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Dwyer would like to see the mural replaced with art that she said reflects the community and created by people who know Anacostia.

"I just felt like somebody from the community could have done that, that has been waiting for these opportunities," she said.

But WUSA9 spoke to several people walking by the mural Monday who had mixed reactions.

“It's confusing to me," Quell Yeh-Deyeh said, “Art is something you just have to have an objective mind state. That’s someone's statement and it is what it is.”

"There's a whole lot on that mural,” Tawana Baylor added, “that is a beautiful mural."

"If you look at that and be mad or upset, I think you should evaluate yourself," Husan Thurston said.

"I just don't like it because it's on a white lady," Amanda Littles said, “and she looks angry.”

"She was a social justice advocate so that's important," Nila Austin countered. “This area in general uses art to express what’s going on. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do: strike up a conversation.”

The California artist said even though she’s told the owner of the building likes the mural, she is not opposed to the community painting over it if it will make folks happy. 

The artist, who goes by Muckrock, is no stranger to controversy. 

In 2019, a mural of Larry Bird in Indianapolis had to be removed. His lawyers reportedly said the hall-of-famer did not appreciate the tattoos she painted on his face. 

WUSA9 also contacted Anacostia BID, who had no comment. 

After this story initially aired, WUSA9 did hear back from Murals DC. A spokesperson said the mural was always temporary and part of a free program to encourage residents to vote.  

The mural will be repainted this summer. 

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