A young man from Sydney has been issued with a court attendance notice for defacing a mural in Sydney’s inner west with black paint.
The original vibrantly-coloured mural, painted by Scott Marsh, depicts singer-songwriter George Michael dressed as a saint while holding a cigarette and an amyl bottle. The artwork was completed after the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2016.
The mural was previously vandalised with eggs and homophobic graffiti but this time there was a more permanent adjustment to the artwork. Members of the public filmed a man using black paint to cover up the mural as he shouted that it was “sacrilegious” and against his religion.
The man has been identified as 23-year-old Christian man Ben Gittany. The attack on the mural comes in the wake of the same-sex marriage postal vote results, where the majority of voters supported the change to the law.
“It’s a very divisive act but we’re not going to put up with it,” Trent Maher, who lives near the mural, told ABC News. “We’re going to stay strong and we’re going to make it better and we’re going to make it something about love rather than something about hate.”
‘Saint George’ was painted almost a year ago as a tribute to the property owners lost mate George Michael. It is on the main train lines heading south through Sydney and thousands of people see it each day on their daily commutes. It has a become a shrine visited by George Michael fans from around Australia and the world, leaving flowers cards and candles at the foot of the wall when they come to mourn and remember George. It made international headlines when it was painted and was a feature in its own float in this years @sydneymardigras , televised across Australia and the world. So why now is it being attacked under the guise of religion?? ? I feel terrible and I’m so sorry to all the locals who have had to endure the intimidation and bullshit during the past nights attacks ? It is completely surreal to see images and hear stories of groups of men, religious fanatics, travelling into these communities to intimidate locals & forcefully remove their public artwork. Its sad really sad… so much for free speach and freedom of expression in Australia… Thanks so much for the dozens of messages of support i have received! Ill write back to them all today. ?? ✌?? The murals now beyond repair, time to let the dust settle. But i can promise you George will be back bigger and better than (and with a graffiti proof coating ??) ? #georgemichael #innerwest #freedomofspeech #saintgeorge #publicart #censorship #patronsaintofthegays
While many members of the community are calling for the mural to be restored, there are many that agree with Gittany’s actions.
Those praising Gittany have gathered together a petition named “I Stand With Ben”, which has gathered more than 15,000 signatures and counting.
The man who started the petition, Paul Bennett, asks religious-minded people to show solidarity.
“As Christian mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters we are deeply hurt and alarmed at the increasing public displays of hate, vilification and mocking of our Christian faith,” the petition reads.
‘There is no tolerance and love in seeing our religious iconography, religious images and religious symbols attacked for no other reason than pure spite and hate.”
‘These murals are advocating for religious hatred, religious hostility and religious incitement against the Christian faith.”
Bennett lists in the petition that the use of the halo, the term “St George” and the hand position of the mural incite religious hatred.
Those condemning Gittany’s actions have written messages of love and acceptance where the black paint has covered the mural.
The artist, Scott Marsh, posted on Instagram about the incident.
“It made international headlines when it was painted … so why now is it being attacked under the guise of religion?” Marsh wrote. “I feel terrible and I’m so sorry to all the locals who have had to endure the intimidation and bulls**t during the past nights attacks.” [sic]