OPINION | Regarding the Ada Gym mural

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I AM writing to you in regards to the changes being made to the Ada Gym mural.

A letter by Ms. Lorenza Aldan was posted on social media and in local newspapers on the issue of how no female athlete was painted on the mural.  I understand she voiced very reasonable concerns, especially on the significance women have in local culture, and she was definitely not wrong with the words she stated.  But as the contracted artist that painted the Ada Gym mural, I too feel that I must have a say in this, and I would also like my voice to be heard in this issue.  In no way am I trying to say, “Let’s not listen to her.” Peter Aldan and I are in the process of changing the runner to a woman, and are currently looking for more paint resources to make those changes happen.  I just want to share my thoughts regarding this as it is starting to feel like the art work is being manipulated because of one person. 

Before Lorenza wrote her letter, she met with me at the Ada Gym wall, sharing her opinion on how she felt about there being no female athlete pictured on the mural.  I explained to her that this isn’t a sports mural or cultural, and how the purpose of it doesn’t actually relate to sports in any way.  I then continued to express that the only reason we included a sports theme in the mural was to highlight and honor the history of the Ada Gym, and to pay tribute to the previous work done by Mr. Luis Ogo. I explained that the grant for this mural was provided to showcase the artwork and talent of the local artists here in the Marianas, so in absolutely no way were we trying to say, “Men are the dominate players,” or, “Men are dominant athletes.” I even admitted to her that my artistic capabilities aren’t as strong in the areas of producing characters or faces. Despite our personal discussion that day, and after I believed we had reached a level of understanding, it seems I was mistaken and that she remained adamant and indifferent towards what I said, for she went ahead on social media and boasted that she had the power to change the already-approved mural.  In most cases, I wouldn’t even care that she turned the issue to the public. She has that right provided under the Section 2 of Article 1 in the CNMI Constitution. What rattled me was when she called herself a Karen on the social media post. I’m unsure if you're familiar with the meaning of that contemporary slang word, but it means a person to be perceived as being entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary. I can at least agree with her on that claim, since it seems she was fishing for attention or popularity, and that makes me feel that my voice as an artist does not matter. 

As the contracted artist, I also want to share that this situation can discourage future artists from wanting to share their work. The idea of having the artwork conditioned or manipulated to fit the desires of one individual who had no part in applying for the grant, building a team, finding resources, or actually painting the mural sucks the life and joy out of being an artist or a creative individual.  Where was she when the team offered the grant to the public? The whole CNMI knew this mural was going to change, yet she only came and spoke up when the mural was already 98% finished.  Lorenza had my voice as an artist silenced and my creative control conditioned to fit what she wanted.  Local artists can never thrive or continue to push their work and passion to new levels if their voices are disregarded in their own world, nor would anyone like to showcase their artwork because their true creative calling would be like a bird in a cage, unable to run free without limits. The islands will end up losing our local artists as they drop their passions to work a 9-5 job that they will hate, or we will see them leave our islands and start a life abroad, their drive to be creative completely destroyed. 

Lastly, Peter and I are willing and definitely will make the changes to the mural, but I truly believe Lorenza should be the one to add the female character to this mural, or at least physically help in producing the image of this character on the mural in some way.  If she feels so highly passionate and determined to get her point across to you about the issues of not having a female character, she should be able to do the work Shayne’s team did to produce this mural. I want to reiterate that she called herself a Karen, so she knowingly feels entitled to say anything, knowing things will go her way if she remains consistent with her complaining.  I’d like to see her apply for the grant, find her resources, and then produce the work.  It’s very easy for someone to complain when they aren’t the ones doing all the leg work and heavy lifting on any kind of production or work.  She should meet everyone halfway, and put in the same amount of effort that Shayne’s team has done.  If all she wants to do is complain because she has to wake up, drive by, not see a female on our mural from her “playground,” and not take any literal action about it, what we are really showing is that our art community lacks strength and is powerless. She and others like her will walk all over us and manipulate anything we have planned in the future.

Please take my voice into consideration on how it feels to see her gloat on social media, on how this situation will hurt local artists, and that she should work just as hard as Shayne’s team did.  I’ve been painting murals for a long time, and I can already see how this mural can be the start of a huge snowball effect in transforming the CNMI into a destination hub for murals and mural festivals, just like what my team and friends have been doing on Guam. Thank you for taking the time to listen. I sincerely can’t wait to do more for the CNMI in the future. Wish you all the best and stay safe!

The writer is operations manager/ sales/ artist  of Opake Guam.

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