The art of fighting hatred: How Downtown murals are spreading messages of hope for AAPI community

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A man walks by a mural on 75 Chrystie Street. The mural was painted by Dragon76.
Photo by Dean Moses

Solidarity for the Asian community is being promoted through art in Lower Manhattan.

With the recent slew of anti-Asian hate crimes plaguing the city and the country as a whole, many New Yorkers have been left fearful of where and when another attacker may strike. With innumerable citizens feeling abandoned during this time of strife, a number of Downtown art projects are reminding Asian Americans that they are not alone.

Several elaborate murals have been popping up throughout Lower Manhattan and Chinatown that denounce Asian racism while also attempting to promote tolerance through art. These lovingly decorated walls look to remind passersby that hate has no place in the city.

“Whether or not my mural can help spread awareness and the current state of Asian hate is something that as an artist I can only hope for.  My artworks are quite often bold, bright, and colorful. I purposely kept this one black and white, as to convey the message in a clear, simple, and concise way.  It’s not confusing, or complex. Stop. Asian. Hate,” said Peter Levine, also known as PeterpaidNYC, the artist behind the mural on 188 Lafayette St.

Levine’s work does not beat around the bush. The words “Stop Asian Hate” jump out at the viewer in gigantic bold lettering.

Other artists, however, chose to be slightly more symbolic but no less impactful. A mural on 246 Bowery depicts a young girl extending her arm to a lantern that is floating just out of reach with the words #stopasianhate scrawled below.

Although this piece, painted by Adrian Wilson with the LISA Project NYC, has already been defaced just a month after being installed, its message means a great deal to one local man.

Felix Fung is the owner of OSARA Symbo located beside the mural on 248 Bowery. Unfortunately, he also has the distinction of being the victim of an Asian hate crime.

Felix Fung stands in front of the mural that brought tears to his eyes. Photo by Dean Moses

“This piece is very significant to me because I personally was attacked across the street. I was shoved to the ground and they were saying a lot of racist stuff, blaming me for the virus. I have been here all my life, I was born here,” Fung told amNewYork Metro.

Fung feels that people find it difficult to make sense of their family and friends perishing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and without an outlet for their grief they chose to hurt people. But Fung has not lost hope. Thanks to the mural, he realizes there are many who care.

“It was really touching. I went about my day; it was very busy that day. Adrian tapped me on my shoulder at the end of the day and he said ‘Hey, Felix, I want you to see something.’ When he showed it to me, it touched me a lot and brought a tear to my eye because he knew that happened to me and I think he wanted to make something with that in mind,” Fung said.   

Fung sees the support represented in the mural every day when he travels to and from work. However, he admits he is still fearful and leaves his home rather infrequently these days due to the apprehension of further attacks.

Other locals also appreciate the message its sending, although some believe it will not prevent hate crimes.

“I think if the message is positive that’s a good thing. It’s pretty, its’s good art. Instead of just having graffiti everywhere this makes the city look cool, it is part of the aesthetic,” said Zoe Ray, a passerby on Bowery.   

While nobody can deny these murals help spread an optimistic outlook, it is difficult to quantify if they are able to change the heart of a potential attacker. Still, in the minds of the artists who create them, their talents are part of the ongoing fight against hatred in New York City.

Levine hopes his mural, in particular, will inspire more New Yorkers to come together.     

“What I would like passersby to take away from seeing my mural is that we all need to be supportive of one another.  As a nation and a civilization, we all just went through (and still going through) something unimaginable.  After 9/11 there was a collective unity.  We need that again,” Levine said.