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How to Transform a Swastika Into Something Fluffy

Make what’s ugly into something that’s not

Jonathan Zalman
November 15, 2016

Our world is full of lovely things: naps, sweet carbohydrates, falling in love, shelter, pets, friends, bubblegum, bubble baths. Our world is also full of ugly things, like swastikas and the people who graffiti them onto property and then run away to a safe space in which they can hide their spray paint cans and find Internet forums that coddle and stoke their hatred of Jews. During Week 1 of Trump’s America, the ugliness has seeped in: swastikas have been popping up all over the land, from Washington State to right here in New York City, just blocks from where I type.

I hope this stops, which is a sentiment I hope we all hope. But hope doesn’t stop racists from performing their racism. Conversation does, and understanding, I think. So do cops. But if that fails, which it clearly has in the last week, there is another course of action to take: take that swastika over by drawing on it, around it, above it, over it.

This idea isn’t original so much as it is a reminder of the power of art to transform a symbol into something entirely different and thus recreate meaning. As though a swastika never even existed there in the first place. So take out your paint brush and spray paint and oils and chalks, and get started.

The Verge ran a piece last year about a campaign called #Paintback, in which artists turn Neo-Nazi imagery across Germany into “playful images,” like a mosquito or an owl or a Walk-Like-an-Egyptian dude or a window with a cat in it. And there’s a Jewish artist in Pennsylvania who’s recreations of the swastika have turned them “meaningless.” Clearly a job well done. She turned one into a gorgeous orange flower, and another into a box with four quadrants and drew little peaceful images within each: a peace symbol, a heart, a flower, and the sun. Nice. Another man wrote the word love inside of it, which is a much nicer thing to see on the sidewalk, if something must be there at all.

If you see a swastika, turn it into a Windows ‘95 logo.

— Nasty Erin (@gibblertron) November 12, 2016

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.

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