I was strolling through the Bishop Arts District last weekend when, near the corner of Madison and 7th, I happened upon a new mural. The likeness isn’t perfect, but the numbers match up — The mugshot of Oak Cliff’s most infamous former resident and Dallas’ most notorious killer is emblazoned on a wall in a neighborhood packed with boutique shoppers and brunchers. (For reference, another nearby mural pays colorful tribute to Batgirl, Oak Cliff’s own Yvonne Craig.)
Dallas has a complicated relationship with the man who shot John F. Kennedy. There’s a weird mix of historical guilt, lingering tragedy, and cheeky irreverence. No one blinks at a bar in the Cedars bearing Lee Harvey Oswald’s name. The Texas Theatre, where Oswald was arrested hours after killing the president, of course has its share of decorative photos related to the events of Nov. 22, 1963. Take a 15-minute walk north of this new mural, and you can see Oswald’s old rooming house. There’s no point ignoring the city’s history.
Still, I was briefly taken aback, standing there with my ice cream while happily chattering couples slurped down mimosas in the near distance, to find myself stared down by the mug of an assassin. Maybe that was the artist’s intent. It’s provocative, if mostly unoriginal.
Mild outrage, given a loudspeaker and amplified by a TV news story that is likely in the works, is inevitably going to come from some quarter. Removed from the context of, say, a museum or an art gallery, the mural sure does seem — intentionally or not — like it’s glorifying a murderer, a gunman who shot his way into history. What would we say about a portrait of John Wilkes Booth in a public space in Washington D.C.? A mural of Micah Johnson on a wall in downtown Dallas?
I’m more outraged that the mural’s jowly Oswald bears little resemblance to the actual Oswald, and that any artist in Dallas is so bereft of original ideas they would paint yet another cheap work about Lee Harvey Oswald and John F. Kennedy.
Update: The Advocate has some more details on the mural, which was apparently unfinished when I took the above photo. (It now has a gold background, and the words “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names” will be added.) The mural was painted by Ponchaveli and commissioned by Christian Avanti, who owns the barbershop it’s painted on.