A SYDNEY artist whose anti-burka mural has infuriated left-wing and Islamic activists is vowing that the provocative artwork will stay in place despite death threats, abuse, a string of vandalism attacks, a violent weekend protest and a police request to remove it.
Newtown glass sculptor Sergio Redegalli has this week restored the mural painted outside his studio for more than the 40th time after dozens of graffiti and paint-bomb attacks by protesters who say it is racist and inflammatory.
In the latest incident last Sunday, a crowd of 50 activists hurled paint at the mural and then turned on police who had to call in reinforcements to restore order.
Seven men were arrested and charged with offences including resisting police, assaulting police and destroying or damaging property.
The charges will be heard in Newtown Local Court next month. Redegalli blames local left-wing groups, rather than Muslim activists, for the incident.
The sculptor, who is a well-known figure in inner-suburban Newtown, says he has since been visited by local police who asked him to take down the mural after learning of a threat to fire-bomb it. He refuses to do so in the interests of free speech and public debate.
“I’m not going to let the bullies win,” Redegalli told The Australian yesterday.
“I’m not doing it for pride (but because) I don’t believe bullies have the right to stand over people and deny us our freedoms.”
Redegalli painted the mural and slogan “Say no to burqas” on an exterior wall of his glassworks last September, after a local fashion designer received death threats over a plan to feature models wearing the traditional Islamic garment in a fashion parade.
The artist says his objective is to promote debate about the Islamic face veil, which he sees as a symbol of repression and violent extremism.
“Most moderate Islamic countries see the dangers of the burka and nikab in segregation of men and women,” Redegalli said. “In the true concept of Islam, men and women are supposed to be equal, and women who are hidden from society cannot be equal.”
A leaflet circulated by his opponents says: “The mural goes hand in hand with widespread Islamophobia, demonising difference and creating a society easily controlled through fear and division.”
Redegalli is also the subject of a complaint to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board by a Muslim woman resident of nearby Erskineville, who claims his mural is racially vilifying.