Nova Scotia

Freak Lunchbox to move Tall Ships mural, replace with candy-themed art

The artist who painted an iconic mural displayed on a downtown Halifax building says he wishes he was consulted before a proposal to create a new piece of art for the space was announced.

Zeqirja Rexhepi of Dartmouth painted mural Tall Ships 2000, says it's a piece of Halifax history

Freak Lunchbox wants to paint over this mural with one featuring candy.

The artist who painted an iconic mural displayed on a downtown Halifax building says he wishes he was consulted before a proposal to create a new piece of art for the space was announced.

Zeqirja Rexhepi, of Dartmouth, painted the mural Tall Ships 2000, featured on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. He says it's a piece of the city's history.

"Halifax is known for it's history by the harbour, of immigration, of Pier 21," said Rexhepi. "It's part of the heritage of Halifax."

On Thursday, the candy store Freak Lunchbox, which owns the building that displays the piece, posted a note on social media calling for submissions to replace the work with something more modern.

The candy store said because of much-needed repairs for the building's structural problems, nothing will stop the mural from coming down. However Jeremy Smith, the owner of Freak Lunchbox, says he's looking for someone interested in putting the mural up elsewhere.

"It was never our intention to just paint over it," Smith said. "We are just so excited to create something new and bright and more contemporary, just to bring some life down to Barrington Street."

Preserving history

Rexhepi said he found out about the plan to change the mural on Facebook and was getting calls late into the night Thursday.

"I don't feel good because it's one part of history and I was a little bit offended. It's different if they want to change the mural [to another] building or whatever.… But to switch that mural with some commercial art work is not good because I'm an artist, I did that," he said.

Zeqirja Rexhepi, of Dartmouth, painted the mural Tall Ships 2000, featured on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. He says it's a piece of the city's history. (CBC)

"All of the tourists and people they saw that and I got good comments, always about the mural. One part of my heart is on Barrington Street. This tall ship kind of feels good because [Halifax] is old, it's an old place, old city."

For Rexhepi, it's more than just a mural.

He came to Canada in the late 1990s as a refugee of the Kosovo war, arriving with nothing, unable to speak a word of English. He said being chosen to paint the mural shortly after arriving in Canada under those circumstances, gave him hope.

"I say thank you to all citizens because truly, this mural was hope for me, hope for me because when [I arrived in Canada] I didn't have absolutely nothing — my diplomas, my artwork," he said.

"Halifax has so many artists but because I was chosen as best artist here, I got an opportunity. Halifax is just like that. It's multi-cultural place and everybody has a place here if they want to do something."

He calls it a "landmark" for Haligonians, tourists and members of the Albanian community. He said he's received an overwhelming amount of mail from all over the world because of the mural.

A new look

However, now that he's had time to think about it, Rexhepi says he understands why the store would want to move the mural.

Meanwhile, Smith said he was surprised by the backlash to the news. He thought people would be excited about the fresh look. He says the store is looking for something specific that will be a dramatic change. 

"A candy store is paying the bill. We have a call now for a candy theme, a circus sideshow theme, or a freak theme," he said.

Smith is asking anyone who might want to display the Tall Ships mural to contact him so it can be moved to a new home. 

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