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Os Gemeos' "The Giant of Boston" at the Rose Kennedy Greenway at Dewey Square, Boston (Geoff Hargadon)

For the past two months, the enormous mural of a colorful, crouched figure (pictured above) in Dewey Square on the Rose Kennedy Greenway has been the subject of intense media and public attention.

Measuring 70 by 70 feet, the mural that the public has dubbed “The Giant of Boston” is the work of Os Gemeos, twin brothers and artistic collaborators Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo from Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Full disclosure: The mural was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Art as part of our Os Gemeos exhibition.)

In the two weeks it took Os Gemeos to create the work, thousands of people gathered to watch the larger-than-life figure emerge from spray-painted outlines and large areas of color. When the piece was complete, an iconic and recurrent feature of Os Gemeos’ artwork was revealed: a character with enormous eyes; bright yellow skin; vividly patterned, mismatched clothing; and a bright red cloth covering the head and lower portion of the figure’s face.

Public response to the ICA through on-site conversations, social media and telephone calls was overwhelmingly positive. Local and national press commented on Os Gemeos’ exuberant contribution to the Boston skyline — from Sebastian Smee, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for The Boston Globe, who noted the mural was “by far the most successful piece of public art I’ve seen in Boston in the more than four years I’ve lived here,” to The Wall Street Journal, which called the artists “rock stars who have appeared everywhere from Miami to Scotland.”

Public commentary reported in a Boston Business Journal article ranged from “the color brightens things up, but it’s more avant garde than I would have chosen,” to “I like it because it’s vibrant and it’s colorful and the downtown needs a lot of that.”

Things took a dramatic turn when local TV news station FOX-25 picked up the story. Their segment began with the anchor stating that the Os Gemeos mural was at “the center of a controversy … Some are comparing this image to the image of a terrorist.” The segment ended with the reporter noting that she was sure “we had not heard the end of the story yet.”

“What does this look like to you?” — I believe it is an issue of the media declaring a controversy, rather than reporting on one.

FOX-25 assured that, by highlighting the segment on their website and Facebook page, asking Facebook fans, “What does this look like to you?” In short order, there were nearly 500 posts, the majority containing overtly racist comments, including “it looks like towel heads” and “go to Iran to do your art not USA.” Before long, the American Civil Liberties Union weighed in, noting that the comments on FOX-25’s Facebook page were “troubling… particularly after the shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, in which someone may have passed judgment on others based simply on who they are or how they dress.” Almost immediately after that, the station scrubbed its Facebook page of the more offensive comments.

There will always be divergent opinions about art in the public domain. Good art often invites more questions than it answers. But the critical issue raised by Os Gemeos’ mural is not an aesthetic one; rather I believe it is an issue of the media declaring a controversy, rather than reporting on one. Social media and digital technologies have forced most traditional media outlets to rethink their strategies to sell papers and attract advertisers, listeners, readers and viewers, but when does a marketing campaign for audience morph into a platform for prejudice? The seemingly fabricated dustup created by FOX-25 effectively did that and more, when other news agencies around the world picked up the “controversy,” creating a snowballing effect. In response, the artists reaffirmed their intent: “to bring color, peace, dream, questions, stimulation of the spectators’ imagination, and especially respect to the community.”

As has often been the case, contemporary art is a lightning rod for issues that divide and disturb us. FOX-25 had the opportunity to offer insight and context to the work of Os Gemeos. Great journalism and great art can increase understanding and tolerance of others through words and images, they can challenge beliefs and opinions with new perspectives, and at their best, they can elevate the value of telling the truth. “The Giant of Boston” did much more than expose an ambiguous crouching figure. It revealed the importance of ethical journalism and the consequences when those standards are compromised.

Earlier WBUR Coverage:

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • jefe68

    What do expect from Fox 25? The segment and many others that Fox 25 puts forward as news worthy is telling and gives insight into their act, which is more about an agenda than news. Try watching it any morning of the week and you will be amazed at how they spin things.

    • king

      Obviously Fox News is a joke, but just as obviously this painting is not just a kid in a pile of clothes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/abraham.ritchie Abraham Ritchie

        What is it then?

        • king

          I think its rather evocative of a Palestinian protester.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathy-Wnuk/100000450245663 Kathy Wnuk

            Regardless, this brought a nice bit of attention to the piece. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. My first thought is that it was a Muslim woman standing next to two other figures that had no heads. Might I suggest that it’s difficult to include human features in such a large work and that the head scarf was for convenience?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Tonyd617 Tony Diaz

    Fox makes me sick…and you now what, the rest of bostons citizens that like to come out and comment, say these god-awful things about these artist and theyre work, with out ANY prior background info, and pass judgment…shame on them, shame on boston for not taking the time to create more outlets like this for our artist, there would be more local understanding if we didnt cater to the “famous” street artist…dont get me wrong those 2 are my fav artists of all time, but if boston had more public outlets, you may start to see a little more understanding from the public

  • http://www.facebook.com/lovettcms Chris Lovett

    Larry Harmon at The Globe did see some possible resemblance to a terrorist, and he made an interesting argument for better screening–a thin line here, perhaps, between nervous censorship and avoiding a needless controversy. When I looked at it from the Greenway at Dewey Square, the figure reminded me more of an occupier emerging from a tent in second-hand clothes, or covering his or her head for a demonstration. The Fox approach took me back to hysteria over Corita Kent’s Rainbow Tank, with its narrow, dripping profile of a figure suspected at first of being Ho Chi Minh and, later (about 15 years after Kent’s passing), Osama bin Laden.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathy-Wnuk/100000450245663 Kathy Wnuk

      It could be me in the middle of winter walking down Comm Ave, scarf wrapped around my head.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abraham.ritchie Abraham Ritchie

    Great response by the Director to a shameful episode of hate-baiting by Fox “news” and their even more shameful hosting of openly racist and hateful comments on their Facebook page. There was no excuse for any of this in a civilized country.

  • eyeshurt

    this piece of art is an eyesore. points for the initiative, but holy smokes is this thing ugly. i wonder what the next piece will be?

    • http://www.facebook.com/abraham.ritchie Abraham Ritchie

      Seriously? Ugly? The colors are great, the patterns are fantastic. In all honesty, I’m interested to hear what would you prefer?

    • http://twitter.com/nick_b_painting Nick Ward

      Sadly, I would guess it will be an empty grey wall.

    • Bostonia66

      Just as many find the cross or the American flag offensive, I am offended by the mural.

  • capemh

    Whether it’s Fox 25, Fo(au)xNews, or the Herald, this is what the Murdochs want out there, controversy and anger by appealing to the basest emotions of human beings…and the comments sections show that they are successful at it. Racist, Misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic…nothing is beyond the pale. It’s a shame that people allow themselves to be manipulated by these garbage merchants.

  • Jake

    What about the greater implication that anyone with a head-scarf is a terrorist? Even if this was meant to be a Muslim or a seikh (I don’t think it is, it looks like a coat around the figures head, not a turban), since when is it OK for the media to portray any Muslim or a turban wearing person as a terrorist? If it WAS a painting of a man in a turban, would that make it offensive. My answer is no, but who knows about Fox’s.

  • musetta11m

    Man, Fox is awful. THis is a really fun, striking piece — the figure all cramped in between the other buildings (but very visible and striking from the park area). While we were looking at it, at least four other folks came up and took photos so people are noticing it and talking about it, which to me is what public art should be about!

  • jgarelick@phx.com

    Well here’s another piece of journalism on the topic — informed and positive I would say. I’d also add that my hope is that this gorgeous art work become a permanent part of the Boston landscape.
    http://thephoenix.com/Boston/arts/142532-os-g%C3%AAmeos-delight-and-provoke/

    • Simon

      I forgot about Greg Cook’s piece – thanks for the link.

  • Nick Sophinos

    As a 50 year old guy who works in One Financial Center across the street, I like how the kid stares down the greed-heads in our building.

  • jpmacco

    I support the mural, however give out economic times where are the Boston artists? Why not support talented local artists who have more of a sense of our city?

  • jpmacco

    I appreciate the mural, but it is out of place for our city. Also, why not give local artists who have a better understanding of this city the work?

  • carol

    I am very sad to know that a giant entertainment company is so irresponsible to incite the population to act with prejudice to a society such as Islam, which has not only terrorists.
    As for the fact of being foreign artists, art has no boundaries. The USA always imposed their culture throughout the world, what is the problem in assessing and paying for foreign art?

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