By DESI WOME
First, a little basic history on the ongoing permission wall behind the Mobil gas station in Hyde Park. We always called it “the Mobil wall,” “53rd Street” or the “Hyde Park wall.”
I started that wall in 1992. I got permission from the Mobil station. There was never a forged letter. People unaware of this history may have not known who to speak to regarding permission, but this wall has been legal to paint since that time. The first day that we painted it, I showed up a few minutes late and the police were already there and had everyone up against the wall preparing to arrest them. I had to run all the way around the block to get the manager of the Mobil station to prevent that.
I started this wall as a place to practice and develop my skills. It was big enough that I immediately opened it to the larger writing community. The first writers to paint on that wall were primarily invited by Attica (RIP), who was more tapped into the community then I was at the time. Attica brought Zore, Jeckyl, Raven, Holee, Cheba, and my partner, Sensae, along with several others. This was where I met Zore and Raven, who became my mentors in this art. Zore had a huge beard, and I remember being amazed that there were adult writers at all. Within a year, the wall had been visited by international writers, like Rens and Sek from Germany. There really were hardly any locations like this in the city of Chicago and the wall became one of the longest running active walls of its kind. Its important also that Hyde Park was basically neutral gang-wise, so that anyone who came was safe as long as they were respectful.
We’ve never gotten any support from anyone to maintain this wall, yet it’s grown into a city treasure, with 21 years of history. Anyone who wants to tear this wall down should consult the federal VARA statutes and consult with myself first or they can be held liable. It is illegal to destroy public artwork without discussions with the artist first. It would be poetic justice if we get the opportunity to charge a gentrifying developer with vandalism of our work. A new, comparable area needs to be designated for the aerosol community to replace what is being taken away.
Editor’s note: VARA is the Visual Artists Rights Act.
Desi WOME is a Hyde Park native, artist and community activist currently based in Oakland, Calif.