Obey Giantess: Mega Mural of Feminist Proportions Pops Up Downtown

Artists Sandra Chevrier and Shepard Fairey give Austin a 12-story tribute to the centenary of the 19th Amendment

Sandra Chevrier and Shepard Fairey’s mural at Congress and Cesar Chavez (Photo by Dana Hansen)

At first glance, the massive new mural at the intersection of Congress and Cesar Chavez seems like an ad for a superhero movie. Plastered onto the west side of the Line Hotel, the 12-story display depicts Wonder Woman breaking a chain with her bare hands. The iconic image tears open the mural as if it were a poster, revealing another woman's face whose eyes could cut right through the rush-hour traffic down below. Strong like Wonder Women, this figure represents every woman.

The 100-foot-tall mural, completed in just five days, is a collaboration between French Canadian artist Sandra Chevrier and Shepard Fairey of "Obey Giant" fame – he also created the iconic Obama "Hope" poster from the 2008 presidential campaign. Both artists were invited by the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation to take part in a weeklong series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. But not all women: Native American, African American, and women from certain minority groups faced obstacles for years to come, a legacy which can arguably still be felt today.

In recent years, the organization has strived to bring more urban art to the city as a way to connect local and international artists and create new public spaces. Writing on the Walls, which ran March 4-11, did just that, offering a host of workshops, film screenings, panel discussions, and activations – including the collaboration between Chevrier and Fairey as well as a mural on North Lamar painted by local artist Sadé Lawson. (Both installations are permanent.)

"I didn't realize how challenging it would be to find a wall, especially a big wall," says Molly Alexander, the executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation. Once the Line Hotel signed on, however, things started quickly falling into place. Fairey had already done a mural at the hotel's L.A. property, for instance, and Chevrier came highly recommended by Carlo De Luca of Station 16, a contemporary gallery in Montreal specializing in graffiti-inspired art. Though the two artists had never met, their work shared similarities such as multimedia, collage, and realism.

Early on, it was decided that Chevrier would lead the project, given its female focus. "This was my first large mural and Shepard was very open to my ideas, very encouraging from the start," she says. "I think the image sends a message, being so close to the Capitol, and it will resonate across the world because of social media."

Asked what feminism means to her, she says "freedom"; being who you want to be. A short and sweet answer, so I pose another question: Is she scared of heights? "I didn't spend my time looking down, I just worked on the wall," she shrugs. "When you focus on something, you don't realize your life is in danger."

Now that the paint has dried and her "seasickness" has subsided (the lift swayed like a boat against the building), Chevrier can enjoy the finished product. Her favorite thing about the mural, she says, is that it was made by a man and a woman. "There are a lot of female artists who are not known in the art world, and that's a problem. We all know the great names of the men, but other than Frida, what woman can you name?"

For more information about the Downtown Austin Alliance, visit www.downtownaustin.com.

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Austin murals, Sandra Chevrier, Shepard Fairey, Downtown Austin Alliance, Molly Alexander, Sadé Lawson, the Line Hotel, Wonder Woman, 19th Amendment, Writing on the Walls, Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation

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