It should come as no surprise to Loonwatchers that I enjoy street art, that much is clear from my previous comments and debates on the subject, but what to make of Mona El-Tahawy’s recent foray into street art as a form of protest?
Mona El-Tahawy was met by Pamela Hall, a member of the Geller fan club, who has collaborated with Geller on various projects and is also an employee of AFDI/SIOA. An immediate question that comes to mind is how extremely coincidental is it that El-Tahawy and Hall had this confrontation? One would be excused for thinking perhaps they collaborated, but such speculation is laid to rest when you realize that El-Tahawy tweeted beforehand that she was going to deface Geller’s ad at that exact location. Perhaps Hall heard that El-Tahawy was going to be there, or maybe it was happenstance, however I highly doubt El-Tahawy would have any truck with Islamophobes of the caliber of Geller and Hall who she calls “racist and bigoted pieces of shits.”
Mona certainly had a visceral and emotive response to the hate ads. Clearly she doesn’t like being termed a “savage” as the ad implies she and her Arab and Muslim brethren are; it is completely understandable that she wanted to engage in some sort of protest.
The question however is, did she go about it in an effective manner?
Mona’s message of protest was obscured by the parody of a confrontation that she had with Pamela Hall, essentially making the protest about her and not the message she sought to convey, i.e. the ad is racist hate speech. Also, did Mona really not know that what she was doing was illegal and for what reason she was being arrested? I find that hard to believe, most street artists who engage in such activity whether they are newbies or veterans are well aware of the ramifications.
Mona’s method of protest was therefore ineffective, aesthetically unappealing and not the best expression of street art. It is unclear if Mona was going to spraypaint a message before her confrontation with Hall, but using a hot pink spraypaint can to completely erase or cover the hate ad, which is what she was doing, is a bad way to register such a protest. It is poorly planned, poorly executed and at the end of the day strays from the goal of highlighting the most important aspect of such a protest: the message.
There are numerous artists, mostly anonymous who have taken to the subways and platforms to lodge their own protest to Geller’s hate ads. We have seen some morphing ads from San Francisco, here is a sampling from New York:
Aside from Mona’s lone spray paint protest, most Muslims have responded to the New York ad in two ways: 1.) As an opportunity to lampoon and satirize Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate through the #MySubwayAd twitter trending campaign, and 2.) Talk to passerbys near the hate advertisements about Islam, explaining its message and what it means to Muslims.