A local council has begun taking down a series of controversial street murals after they were branded "anti-Semitic".
The government-funded mural by well-known artist Mic Porter shows a series of "grotesque" faces painted across the upper facades of shops along Carlisle Street in Balaclava, Melbourne. It sparked immense backlash from some who said the faces show physical attributes that can be likened to a degrading, well-worn trope of Jewish people.
The City of Port Phillip council recently debuted the artwork as part of their "People of Balaclava" project. "The artworks are depictions of many of the characters of Carlisle Street," the council said in a recent Facebook post promoting the mural before they decided to remove it.
But the series' project manager, another artist called Bailer, defended the work, slamming suggestions they are intentionally offensive. He told Yahoo News that calling Porter anti-Semitic is "ridiculous". "It's a blatant lie," he shared. "[Mic] has lived in the area for over 40 years and his artwork has been featured heavily on a large scale throughout the area for over 20 years".
After reaching out to Port Phillip Council, Mayor Heather Cunsolo confirmed to Yahoo News that after discussions with Coles Balaclava, they decided to start removing the portraits.
"When Council was first made aware that the artist’s figures could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, we reached out to several Jewish community leaders for advice. Whilst no concerns were raised, the current conflict has understandably heightened sensitivities and Council has no desire to add to the pain and distress many of our community are already feeling," Cunsolo said.
"We realise that regardless of the artist’s intentions, the portraits have deeply upset and divided members of our community and for that we apologise".
Some agree the art is anti-Semitic
Researcher and executive director of John Curtin Research Centre, Nick Dyrenfurth, shared online that he has "no words" after seeing the mural.
"And if we want to inquire as to the potential motivations of the artist, Mic Porter. He posted this video at the October 29 Melbourne protest," Dyrenfurth shared on his X account on Thursday alongside screenshots from Porter's recent video at a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally.
Others, including members of the Jewish community and government figures, have also shared their disapproval of the art. One official, City of Port Phillip Councillor Marcus Pearl, publicly asked that the council remove it immediately. "I have received a significant number of complaints from members of our community who find these murals deeply offensive," he told the Herald Sun.
Zionism Victoria executive director Zeddy Lawrence said that after looking at Porter's work online, he can appreciate that this may be his style. "If that’s the case, it’s just incredibly unfortunate that his comically grotesque images, which are redolent of monstrous anti-Semitic caricatures, appear as street art in such a notable Jewish neighbourhood," he told the Herald Sun.
Artist known for his 'caricature' portraits for years
Profiles of the artist on gallery websites and art websites across the internet all describe his art as "grotesque" self-portraits that represent himself, his brothers, and his emotions. "His style is provocative, with his pieces often taking on grotesque and otherworldly qualities: pock-marked figures resembling fungus, street murals bearing gnarly and sinister caricature," Urban Canvas Melbourne says of the work.
Due to his recognisable style, others have followed in Bailer's footsteps, hitting back at online claims that Porter's art is antisemitic. "You are really reaching here. Michael Porter’s images are almost all self-portraits and portraits of his dead brother. Do your homework," one person replied on Dyrenfurth's X post with many others sharing the same sentiment.
Escalating conflict in the Middle East fuelling increased tension
Australia has been experiencing increased tension as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate. On Wednesday, an Australian business owner came under fire after rejecting a Jewish high school's application to lease a jumping castle.
Since Hamas's surprise attack on Israel on October 7, reportedly over 1200 Israelis have been killed and more than 12,000 Palestinians — the majority of which are civilians, including over 4000 children. Around 30,000 Palestinians have been injured, and an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.