In Kensington, Australia, there is a house in a neighborhood that is popular for artists to paint murals on. Since 1982, various artists have expressed views on politics, social issues, or just created interesting works on the side of the house. This past month, a bright and colorful mural of a koala and a monkey smoking out of pipes appeared on the side of the house, courtesy of artist Ben Wallace. However, the work was not just a funny painting. The monkeys represented westerners and the pipes they were smoking from are pipes historically used for trading in Indonesia by the Macassan people.
Homeowner Matthew Hardy does not live in the house but received a letter telling him to remove the mural or face fines. He stated that in nearly forty years this has never happened before. It begins to beg the question about censorship and freedom of expression. The mural was painted on private property at the expense of the artist, so how much of a say should any outside forces have on this? Norwood, Payneham & St Peters Council sent the letter stating that the work appeared to “depict characters smoking illicit drugs” but the pipes merely contain tobacco. It should also be noted that there were attempts to almost criminalize the artist. Wallace said he would have been willing to paint over and fix some parts of the mural to make it more appropriate, but instead was met with hostility and told to take the whole thing down.
In addition, while the mural does feature smoking, that does not mean it condones or encourages it. The artist stated that they were “painted to show some of the negative aspects of smoking.” In my experience, I have witnessed plenty of strange murals or even advertisements out in public that are not much worse than this, so it begins to question where the line can be drawn between what is appropriate for the public and what isn’t.
If some monkeys smoking tobacco is inappropriate, what makes commercials on TV for Marlboro cigarettes (obviously encouraging tobacco use by showcasing glamorous people having a great time) and other tobacco, or even alcoholic products more suitable for the general public?