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Genitalia mystery on Brussels' walls

AAP logoAAP 23/09/2016

An anonymous artist is wreaking havoc on the streets of Brussels, a city whose authorities are flummoxed by the sudden appearance of sexually-explicit graffiti showing human genitalia of gargantuan proportions.

The third masterpiece in this unclaimed oeuvre, a six-metre-tall flaccid, circumcised phallus, is already becoming known as the "Saint-Gilles penis" in honour of the southern Brussels district where the unusual mural emerged on Wednesday night.

This semi-realistic depiction of the male copulatory organ was the first in the series to only display the solitary member devoid of other features, contrasting with two previous risque renditions..

Days before the newfangled penis's rise to fame, two other similarly-bawdy graffiti had already graced the European capital's walls: a 45-square-metre close-up of the universal act of coitus that sprang up on Rue des Poissonniers, and a humungous portrayal of the female nether regions in full stimulation overlooking Place Stephanie.

These lurid frescoes now threaten to topple the status of Brussels' most famous nude: the Manneken Pis, an early 17th-century fountain sculpture depicting a naked boy urinating into the basin, the city's most recognisable landmark and one of its prime tourist attractions.

It appears that the lewd works of street art crop up overnight, and police are unsure if the creators are a collective or a single, unaided person looking to express their artistic sensibilities.

"What I don't understand is how people can say they didn't see the painting process. There's police, surveillance cameras... I think they simply closed their eyes," Michel, a 43-year-old Saint-Gilles resident, told EFE.

The municipality on Thursday convened an emergency meeting of its district council to discuss the controversial graffiti, eventually deciding - along with the building's owner - that the penis needed to be eradicated.

Since an unadorned wall would be prone to fall prey to another astute painter, Saint-Gilles' elders are pondering whether to launch a competition to select a more decorous substitute for the current salacious appendage.

"I don't think it's very flagrant. If you look at it, it's pretty hidden from view. It's good that it sparks debate," said Audrey, aged 33, while waiting for the tram.

"It's an artistic expression that's different from a simple name 'tag' (signature). I think they should leave it there. We're not being forced to look at it," she added.

Nevertheless, in a city whose districts are endowed with a high degree of administrative autonomy, the councillors in Brussels' central district have decided to keep the other two murals, which fall under their jurisdiction.

The flurry of interest in the real identity of the auteur (or auteurs) of the Brusselian compositions is reminiscent of the public's fascination with British street art icon Banksy's true name.

One of the most recent theories floating around the collective imagination postulates that Banksy's alter ego is actually a member of the British electro-rock band Depeche Mode.

In contrast with the sensuous graffiti ennobling the Belgian capital, Banksy's body of work tends to focus on political activism and social causes, such as the senselessness of war, the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories or the pitfalls of global capitalism.

The fact that both creative minds concentrate on differing subjects does not mean that one is necessarily superior to the other: there might be enough space in the burgeoning world of street art to accommodate both voluptuous vaginas and penises and thought-provoking political messages at the same time.

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