When Ayesha Chugh rode her bike down S Street NW on the way to work Wednesday morning, she noticed something different along the way. Just off the corner past 7th Street, a mural she’d come to love was being destroyed by construction workers. She did a double take, but kept riding. Then she changed her mind. “I felt kinda compelled to turn back and document that moment. I saw a guy chipping away the paint with a hammer,” Chugh, a LeDroit Park resident said. “I wanted to share it with my friends, many who are artists.”
What she ended up putting on Instagram was a scene of construction workers breaking down the plaster from the wall at 711 S Street, where last year, artist Aniekan Udofia had painted a portrait based painting of Marvin Gaye as part of Heineken’s Mural Project. Even though it was only up for 12 months or so, it had an incredible impact on the community. Gaye’s status as a native son of D.C. made it quite popular and the flashy colors within were impossible not to notice.
Chugh, who works with a non-profit by day and moonlights as a DJ under the name Ayes Cold (pronounced like “ice”), has been living in the neighborhood adjacent to Shaw for five years, and feared the worst. “More and more frequently I see new condos and businesses pop up in the area at the expense of the residents and wider community,” Chugh, 27, said. “The mural going down, [was] icing on the cake.”
That’s the bad news. Now the good news.
The bad news is that yes, the colorful piece that served as a visual anchor in what some people refer to as “New Shaw,” will be covered up by a building on the old site. What Chugh and many others saw on Wednesday was the beginning of that process, which involved workers having to destroy part of the art, to be able to build directly onto the adjacent wall. When the work is finished, you won’t be able to see Gaye’s illuminated head among a collection of wavy instruments and speakers, a design created to evoke the theme “open your world.”
But the good news is that right across the street, another Gaye mural is coming, and Udofia is planning to make it even better. He knew when he undertook the Heineken piece that it would eventually be covered up. That was his motivation to make it unforgettable. “[Knowing] that it’s going to be temporary, the motivation is actually higher. Because, you have to make sure that … this sparks,” he said, standing in the alley, watching builders work around his art Wednesday. “Before, I would have this strong attachment to things like this. But now, it’s what you signed up for. If they tell you it’s going to be temporary, you have to suck it up and know, ‘it’s going to be gone, so don’t cry about it.’”
From where he was standing, if you turn to your left and look south, you see Log Cabin Liquors and Hollywood Barber Shop. The low-slung building’s long brown wall has a few billboards on it, along with the occasional graffiti tag, which gives way to the wide sidewalk. That is where Udofia’s newest project is slated for creation.
According to Alexander Padro, executive director of Shaw Main Streets, Inc., they’re in the final stages of preparation. Currently, it’s planned to happen in September as part of the Art All Night DC festival, an event held by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in which neighborhoods “host their own unique mix of artistic programming for audiences to enjoy free of charge,” according to a release.
Coincidentally, that building will soon display two local and vibrant murals, albeit one on the other side that, these days, is less recognizable to many. On the south side, within what used to be a playground but is now fenced in, is a multi-piece graffiti-style mural, that was done in 2006. A non-funded project, it was coordinated by a graffiti writer named SEK, who used to live in the apartment complex next to the wall. It’s one of the last of twenty plus murals that were funded and installed by the Double Down Kings and Hoods Of Art crews. It’s been a personal favorite of mine for some time, even if it has been in disrepair for years. Considering what’s to come — not bad for the old relic on the corner.
Back on the other side, though, Udofia is excited. He saw the impact his mural had on the neighborhood, and wants to build on that. “‘I’m glad that it had that effect on people, the whole community here. Everybody in the building across from it, it was like watching a movie. Everyday, they would come to work and be like ‘Wow.’ And some of them at break time, they’d line up here and tell me ‘hey, I saw when you were doing that.’ Then you’d hear them arguing like ‘I told you that was a speaker, that looked like a speaker!’ and things like that. And then they were like ‘is that his wedding ring?’ I was like ‘yo, no, it’s not. … Well, I guess it could be.’ It was funny how many things people saw in it.”
Something that Joel Daly, who began working in Shaw just 3 months ago definitely agreed with. He tweeted about the wall’s demise Wednesday and was unhappy about the circumstances. “I understand that the neighborhood’s changing, and certain things are going to change in the name of progress and everything, but, such an iconic piece,” said Daly, 38, who runs a digital communications agency out of the WeWork DC space in the old Wonder Bread Factory across the street. “This morning saw them taking a clawhammer to the plaster there, and it just deflated me. … It’s just such a great spot to be in. It’s cool to watch … sort of the neighborhood coming up a little bit, but also want to see it maintain its personality as well. And so this is one of those things.”
But the artist who mainly goes by just his first name, Aniekan isn’t sweating it too much. Sitting in Uprising, the coffee spot just across 7th Street, wearing a vest and bowler hat and enjoying a pumpkin muffin between meetings, he’s thinking about the future. He got permission from the Marvin Gaye estate the first time, albeit somewhat reticently at first, but hopes to be able to build on the strength of his previous work to recreate his image again.
“It’s sad that’s it’s gone, but the good news is, it’ll be back. It’s the sad thing about street art. It’s just disposable art. You put in so much work, only for it to go away, after 6 months, after 2 years, after a year. The idea behind this was just to make something very powerful that it’ll capture enough attention to when if it’s gone, the people will demand for it back. And it worked,” he said. “It is kinda weird, in a way. But you sit there, and you’re like wow this is a little bit painful, but like I said, part two is coming.”
In Shaw, even with destruction, there is rebuilding. This time, it’s for the right reasons.