Iqaluit resident turns public obscenities into something positive

‘Pluck my qiik,’ the Inuktitut word for gray hair, is just one of the fixes Janet Brewster has been making around Iqaluit to alter some unpleasant graffiti messages. ‘I basically try to change everything to something positive.’

WARNING: Some viewers may find photos and language in this story offensive

On the walls of Nunavut's capital city a battle is raging:­­ one between nice and not-­so-­nice graffiti.

Iqaluit resident Janet Brewster has a hand in that fight. She hated walking past angry graffiti each day. She was frustrated that it could last for years without someone doing anything about it. Most of all, she was tired of explaining offensive messages to her son.

"He asked me what a joint was because under there it says ‘Let’s light up a joint,’" she says pointing to a white shack tagged in black graffiti. "So I came back with some black spray paint and some white and just changed the message."

Her corrected graffiti now reads: "Let’s light up our life."

"I basically try to change everything to something positive."

Now happier graffiti can be seen all over town. Several "Fuck­­­ You's" read "Lucky You.” 

"Fuck­ the police" on the door of the old RCMP detachment now says "Hug the police." 

A "Westside" tag near one popular tobogganing hill says "We love to slide" and "Suck my dick­­­" has been changed to "Pluck my qiik” — a qiik is a gray hair in Inuktitut. 

Other obscene drawings are blotted out with hearts and smiley faces.

Keep an eye out and you begin to notice all types of graffiti: the good, bad and ugly­­ everywhere.

'Micro aggression'

Last week, Qikiqtani Inuit Association presidential hopeful Meeka Kilabuk's election billboard was defaced. Someone wrote in red spray paint: "No women president." Brewster immediately fixed the sign; she simply erased the "No."

She calls such angry graffiti "micro aggression."

"The first time I was affected by graffiti of 'Fuck­­­ You' was when I was walking to the courthouse to go to a hearing. I took that message really personally that day," she says, explaining how negative graffiti can be a visual slap to the face that takes its toll.

"On most days you can just move on. But if someone is having a particularly bad day, one more negative message isn't welcome."

According to Public Works Director Keith Couture, the city does black out and erase obscene graffiti in public areas, but only if a resident complains about it. Brewster says residents should speak up and not assume someone else will fix it.

"Give somebody a call and say, 'Hey, you think you can get rid of the big penis in front of the middle school?'"

Make people smile

But better than blocking graffiti out, she says, is beautification. Local muralist Jonathan Cruz agrees. His artwork — seen across Nunavut and Nunavik —­­ is the opposite of angry graffiti tags.

They are large-­scale community projects intended to make people smile.

"I think having more murals around town will allow the people that are doing negative graffiti to take part in something more positive."

Cruz says thankfully people respect the time and talent that goes into public art.

Similarly, Brewster says she tries not to add to the overall size of graffiti around town and only does so in public places.

"I embrace freedom of expression but when it comes to my children reading hateful expressions in public places, I'm going to do what I can to remove those negative expressions."


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