Not a perfect likeness, but you get the picture. Photo by Alex Macon.

Visual Arts

Why Is There a Lee Harvey Oswald Mural in the Bishop Arts District?

Intentionally or not, the art seems to be glorifying a killer.

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.

Comments

  • Yukon Chris

    Oswald? I thought it was Eddie LeBaron.

  • Greg Brown

    Can we just move the F on from the whole Kennedy-Oswald crap? How many people go to Buffalo NY to see where McKinley was shot?

  • Steve Baker

    Hell most young people today don’t know who Kennedy or Oswald is anyway…another 30 years and it will be like Lincoln and Booth. The painting might even spur a history lesson in the future

  • blackops51931

    Isnt this the same artist that was just featured in D-Magizine just a month prior for one of the most Instagrammable muralist in Dallas? Now some under, well not qualified to be an art critic want to pre-judge and bash one of the greatest artist of our time just hours after the mural was started and obviously not finished just to have a moment to shine… WOW someone needs to be fired for not doing their homework and researching Theo Ponchaveli who simultaneously painted his 2nd Kennedy right up the street from the unfinished Lee Harvey mural that actually has a real hole in the wall (in his head) and a quote that reads “Forgive Your Enemies, But Never Forget Their Names”.
    Ponchaveli is also on of the artist that just completed the Dallas Strong mural on the new Dallas Mavericks practice facility. If anything d-Magazine needs to make the writer of this shameless article publicly apologize to this artist and follow it up by a full front page feature of this modern day great Theo Ponchaveli whom Dallas is blessed to have in their mist.