Hong Kong artist, organization clash over North Side mural
August 22, 2016 12:00 AM
A mural at the intersection of Jacksonia and Arch streets on Pittsburgh's North Side.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The creation of a mural on the North Side has resulted in a clash of artists and a social media buzz after a visiting muralist from Hong Kong accused her sponsor of violating her work.
In early summer, a dozen teenagers began painting the side of 1500 Arch St. as part of the MLK — Moving the Lives of Kids — Community Mural Project. The property owner, Jacob Hanchar, approved a design that was mostly that of Cara To’s, a street artist from Hong Kong.
According to MLK’s executive director Kyle Holbrook, some of his own work and that of Tim Engelhardt, a muralist whom he hired as one of two site managers, also was to have been included.
The project lasted six weeks, ending Aug. 5, but Cara To returned to the site last week to “figure out how to repair it,” she said.
Compared to the image Mr. Hanchar wanted, the wall last week included numerous alterations and most of the work done by the youth is gone.
Cara To said her original design was altered to such a degree that, in a video she shared on social media, she called it “art rape.”
Various artwork was painted over, with both Mr. Holbrook and Cara To blaming the other.
Cara To’s design was based on Andy Warhol’s blond treatment of Marilyn Monroe. Around the bright yellow hair, she placed the face and hands of a young black woman, but with stylistic designs around the nose and the eyes. The woman’s hands hold a string of paper dolls. One small rectangle shows a yellow bridge and blue sky above it.
Mr. Holbrook said he worked in “negative space” on the wall and “would never paint over another artist’s work.”
“I don’t understand myself completely what happened,” Mr. Hanchar said. “All I know is I spent a lot of money and the project’s not done.”
He said he has paid $15,000 and owes another $10,000 to MLK.
Early this week, he worked out a schedule with Cara To in which she could finish her design, and he expected that to take about a week, depending on the weather.
“I told Kyle that if there are artistic differences, I’d prefer that he not interfere,” Mr. Hanchar said. “I’m trying to make sure her vision is realized.”
MLK has had a contract with the city for several years to pay youth workers as part of the city’s summer employment program Learn and Earn. The young people, ages 14 to 21, make $7.25 an hour.
Cara To said she was supposed to receive $10,000 but only received $2,000. When Mr. Holbrook began having personal issues with her, she said, he fired her.
She posted on Tumblr a series of texts she said were sent to her from Mr. Holbrook that she believes chastised her and disrespected her.
Mr. Holbrook said her posts were “lies and slander.”
Cara To is the third international artist he has brought to Pittsburgh to work with the MLK youth.
“It was made clear that this was a collaboration, but she had a tough time” accepting the fact that she wasn’t going to do the mural all by herself, he said.
Cara To said she knew there would be participation by youth but that there was “no clarity.”
Micci Hutterer, MLK’s education director, said this kind of squabble has not happened in her 10 years with the organization.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
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