Say No in Plural to the ‘Say No to Burqas’ Mural

An Open Letter to Marrickville Council,

As you are aware, for over six months there has been a large racist mural painted on the wall of a
private building facing the train line on Station St. in Newtown. The mural, which has repeatedly
changed after being defaced, focuses on an anti-burqa slogan. The presence of the mural and the
attitudes it espouses are offensive and unacceptable.

The mural is particularly problematic because of what it represents: the persistence of a xenophobic,
racist and rabidly far right politics in Sydney. The mural dog whistles to these tendencies and seeks to
publicly legitimize attacks on all forms of cultural difference.

To be clear, this mural is not about women’s rights. It is an attempt to transform women’s dress into
cultural battlefield over who is entitled to live in Sydney – those ‘like us’ (i.e. the white, heterosexual,
property owning, middle class norm) over those who are ‘different’, everybody who does not, or will
not participate in reproducing the dominance of those values. This mural seeks to curtail freedom of
religious expression and choice under the guise of free speech.

Allowing the mural to remain directly contradicts the Marrickville Council’s policies on diversity,
multiculturalism and discrimination.

The Marrickville Council 2010 Community Strategic plan states that the entire strategic direction
of council policy should be “based on the social justice principles of equity, access, participation
and rights” 1 The Council’s principle council document addressing multiculturalism, Strengthening
Marrickville’s Migrant Communities states that its purpose is to “support multiculturalism in
Marrickville”. The policy reference’s the “council’s commitment to supporting and enhancing
cultural diversity at its most local level and ensuring that diversity of cultures, including local
Aboriginal communities and those brought to Marrickville through migration and lifestyle choice,
have the opportunity to express their chosen cultural life including cultural practices and languages, as
well as having access to the collective culture of the local area, enjoying and benefiting from a sense
of belonging.” 2

The rejection of cultural difference that the mural advocates is deeply unpopular in Marrickville.
From the extensive consultation undertaken as part of developing the strategic plan “maintaining
cultural diversity” was identified by the community as one of the top eight issues of most importance.3

The inaction of the council regarding the anti-burqa mural and the broader implications that its
presence demonstrates is unacceptable given these conflicts with the Council’s own policies, and
community opinion.

The people of Sydney, the people of Marrickville do not accept the presence of these attitudes in
our communities. We are requesting that the Marrickville council take the opportunity to join us in
rejecting hatred and xenophobia in all its forms.

We have two simple requests:

1: We ask that the Marrickville Council take whatever steps necessary to get this mural
removed.

2: We ask that the Council act quickly to make prominent public space available for local
Muslim women to paint their own mural, and for other local artists to paint mural’s celebrating
difference.

Timeliness in this issue is paramount. Every day that this mural remains, that these attitudes are aired
and legitimized, is a day that those attitudes are given the opportunity to grow and foster support. We
request that the council takes immediate steps so as to ensure these requests are met by June of this
year.

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1 Our Place Our Vision, Marrickville Council Community Strategic Plan 2010 pp. 6

Click to access mcsp.pdf


2 Strengthening Marrickville’s Migrant Communities, Marrickville Council, 2011
3 Our Place Our Vision, Marrickville Council Community Strategic Plan 2010 pp. 8

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We are calling on all people to create opposition and alternatives to
the “say no to burqas” mural.

The “say no to burqas” mural has been up in Newtown for more than
6 months now. Though there has been plenty of dissent, the mural
remains. Far from ‘protecting oppressed women’, the mural works to
target and isolate Muslim women and incite fear amongst the general
public.

What wider themes of racism does the mural represent?

What would women’s emancipation REALLY look like?

And how can we work together to make emancipation for all, Muslims
and non-Muslims, a reality?

We invite YOU to create artwork inspired by these themes.
Be part of a visual, aural, sensual display of creative dissent!

:: Artworks may be of any discipline.

:: Expressions of interest with details of the work – 22nd April.

:: Artworks must be delivered directly to the Newtown Community
Centre on 5th May.

::NO DISRESPECT will be held on the 6th and 7th May 2011.
::NO DISRESPECT is being hosted by and is a fundraiser for the Cross
Border Collective, MySydney and Justice and Arts Network. If you wish
to sell your work, 20% of the sale price is asked to be donated to Cross
Border Collective’s, MySydney’s and the Justice and Arts Network’s
ongoing projects. Even better, if you would like to donate your work
to fundraise for these not-for-profit groups, it would be greatly
appreciated!
:: If you or your artwork have any special needs, such as access to the
exhibition space, projections, large artwork size (over 1 metre) or weight
(over 10 kilos), please check with the organisers to see what we can
arrange together.
:: Cross Border Collective, MySydney and Justice and Arts Network
retains the right to decline artworks if the content does not fit the above
guidelines.