First of all, thank you for the open discussion. I think that while the new Ada Gym mural is beautiful and the quality of the artwork matches the talent and professionalism the artists had to complete the design, a mural that is inclusive of both male and female sexes is a more accurate representation of our community and sends a positive message to our competitors about our values.
Because the design includes the CNMI flag, it represents our culture and the sports included in the design and the placement of the mural on the sports complex are inherently tied to our sports community.
Initially, when first seeing the design circling on social media, I was excited to see a vibrant new take on Luis Ogo’s 14-year-old mural. Upon closer look, I noticed there were no female athletes portrayed in the final design layout and took to the platform I saw the design on to voice my concerns. Much to my surprise, I was not the first nor the only person to notice the lack of representation. Because of how fast information spreads, I was fortunate enough to get in contact with the artist and arranged a meeting to talk about our concerns.
During this meeting, the artist and I spoke candidly about the design. He gave me the opportunity to discuss why representation matters. With the Pacific Mini Games being held in the CNMI in 2021 and Ada Gym being the heart of our sporting events in the CNMI, I would think we would want our future competitors and counterparts in the region to look up at the mural and not get the wrong impression. To which he replied, “I’m just contracted to paint the design, you will have to talk to the project manager or the managers of the grant to change the design.” At this point, he was kind enough to give me the name and contact information of the project managers.
After having the conversation with the artist, and although he seemed to be listening, I left feeling dismissed for having any opinion at all. And driving home after that I concluded that I would really be doing the female athletes, like myself, a disservice if I left it at that. At that point it was apparent this topic was about so much more than just the mural, but what the mural represents. This compelled me to email the executive director of the Commonwealth Council for Arts. In this email I expressed my background, a CNMI resident, Pacific Century Fellow alumni, and a former CNMI national athlete. I wrote with the utmost respect about how I felt the current message of the new mural did not accurately reflect the values and beliefs commonly shared by the CNMI. I also referenced female athletes who have dedicated their time and efforts toward achieving titles and medals for their accomplishments for the CNMI. What I later realized, and did you know, is less than 23% of the CNMI Sports Hall of Famers are women, which I think is an even more compelling reason to encourage young or aspiring female athletes to represent the CNMI. I got a response from the CNMI Department of Community and Cultural Affairs secretary who said, “We absolutely agree with your sentiment and have already asked the artists to make the change as immediately as possible.” In my excitement I decided to share this news with all of the female athletes who said they felt left out and insulted by the oversight.
In my post I referred to myself as being a “Karen” which by true definition and more commonly known, refers to the social satire about women wanting to speak to a manager. This is precisely what I did by reaching out to CCAC and DCCA. I felt like my actions were necessary and appropriate in safeguarding the perception of our community to the outside athletic world. The lack of a female athlete in the mural could likely have been a design oversight and in no way do I believe this reflects the values or beliefs of anyone involved in the design, project or process. Even I am surprised at the direction this topic has taken on social media. I am pleased with the positive response I’ve gotten in support of the inclusion of a female athlete in the mural. I apologize if I missed any invitation for public input for the mural, but social media being what it is, I posed the question. When the artist and I spoke about the female athlete, it wasn’t only for me, which he seems to imply. In my opinion, it just seems so obviously overlooked. I made it known to the artist that I would gladly help paint and my offer still stands.
Lorenza C. Aldan
Fina Sisu, Saipan