SAVING THE UMBRELLA GIRL

By Alexis Sullivan

Fundora shared the above picture taken after the most recent tagging of the “Umbrella Girl.” The red spray paint was left by taggers on the piece sometime between December 24, 2020 and December 26, 2020.

Sometime between December 24 and December 26, 2020, a group of taggers under the cover of night defaced two Banksy pieces in the area, one of which was the “Umbrella Girl.” The taggers used a grinder to cut a rectangular hole in the polycarbonate protective layer covering the “Umbrella Girl” and tagged the piece with red spray paint that spelled out ‘King Robbo.’

After being notified of the defacing by a friend in the early evening of December 26, Fundora, founder of NOLA Art Walk, along with members of his team came to the rescue. Fundora said, “They {taggers} actually cut through the plexiglass and got to the piece underneath and tagged directly on it. If we hadn’t addressed it that night right then and there, it probably would have been gone by the next day.” Fundora and his team worked tirelessly to remove the tags from the piece that Saturday evening through the early hours of Sunday.

Fundora shared that this is not the first time, nor is it the last, that Banksy’s “Umbrella Girl” has been defaced. He said that these taggers, in particular, were really trying to permanently damage the piece. When asked why defacing Banksy’s “Umbrella Girl” and other Banksy pieces around New Orleans is such a common practice, Fundora shared, “For them, it wasn’t about stealing the piece or anything, it was literally about making a name for themselves by kind of riding the coattails of someone way more famous.”

Banksy’s “Umbrella Girl” has become a staple of New Orleans street art. It is located at 1434 North Rampart Street on the corner of an otherwise insignificant ramshackle building. According to NOLA.com, this piece is one of fifteen left by the British graffiti artist Banksy during his visit to New Orleans in 2008. Of these fifteen pieces, only two or three remain intact in their original locations. The “Umbrella Girl” depicts an image of a young girl holding an umbrella to shield herself from the rain, however in this piece, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella. The overt shortcoming of the umbrella to protect the girl from the rain symbolizes the failure of the New Orleans levee system to perform its function of preventing water from penetrating the city during Hurricane Katrina.

In 2011, shortly after purchasing a home in New Orleans, Zuefle visited the “Umbrella Girl” and noticed the broken plexiglass covering the piece, as well as the neglect of the building. Zuefle said, “At that point, I took it upon myself to go buy a new sheet of plexiglass. I put it over it, and every month I would come into town and if someone tagged it, I would go clean it up and try and make it look better.” Zuefle later switched to polycarbonate to better prevent taggers from breaking the protective covering.

About two years ago, Zuefle befriended Fundora during one of the NOLA Art Walk tours, and about a year and a half ago, Fundora offered to pay for a new sheet of polycarbonate. From then on, their partnership on this project has continued. Fundora and Zuefle said the method they typically use involves charcoal lighter fluid and a sanding sponge to remove paint tags on the piece, which can take a number of hours depending on the degree of damage. Fundora remarked, “Well, the thing with any kind of street art or graffiti is that once something gets tagged over or defaced, if it is allowed to remain that way, it is kind of like blood in the

water. It sends a signal to every other graffiti artist, vandal, and street artist that the area is a free for all and that spot is open now. If no one addresses it really fast, it could be within a day, it’s gone.”

Fundora and Zuefle explained why they do this work and what the “Umbrella Girl” means to them. Fundora said that he was always an art aficionado but was never very interested in Banksy until moving to New Orleans about six years ago. Fundora remarked, “When I started seeing them {Banksy’s “Umbrella Girl” and “Grey Ghost”} sort of tying in to the history of the city, especially with Katrina and a lot of things that have happened here… So, all of those pieces actually really helped me too, like they spoke to me as far as relating to the city and its story and its history.” Zuefle remarked, “I bought a house in 2011 in New Orleans, and I started spending a lot more time there. That’s when I realized there were a number of Banksy pieces in New Orleans, and I started doing the research and finding out about the other pieces that are now gone.”

When asked why maintaining the “Umbrella Girl” is so important to the city, Zuefle said, “There are so many different local people that have so many different personal experiences that they relate to the piece. It’s relevant…Street art is not meant to last forever. On the other hand, sometimes things are worth preserving.” Fundora remarked, “It {“Umbrella Girl”} helps to build the city’s repertoire of world class street art and graffiti. We have a lot of word class artists here and a lot of artists that come through and visit, and I think it just helps to build that up and help improve the city’s image and overall cultural offering, you know, for the locals and for tourists.”

Zuefle remarked, “One of the most rewarding things about taking care of the piece is every time I am out there cleaning it, usually takes an hour or two, and every time I am out there, a number of people, maybe five, ten, fifteen people stop, and they could be a homeless guy, they could be a New Orleans police officer, could be a professor, a tourist, like every walk of life stops and says thank you so much for taking care of this. It is really appreciated.”

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