Chicago Creatives ‘Deface’ Outdoor Ads to Bring Attention to Domestic Violence

By Patrick Coffee 

Whether you look to this year’s holidays with cheer, dread or some uncomfortable combination thereof, one issue will most certainly not be resolved at the Thanksgiving dinner table: domestic violence.

Three Chicago-area creatives recently decided to make this point in a more visceral way by “defacing” ads along the city subway and bus systems as part of a project they call Defacing Abuse.

Art director Jen Garcia, copywriter Mish Jagjivan and AD Carl Larsson spent a few nights out in the city “recycling” ads that had been marked with particularly harsh graffiti to ask the public a question: If this happens in public, what happens in private?

As the project’s mission statement notes, women are featured prominently in ads far more often than men, so they are of course much more likely to be the subjects of graffiti messages that range from amusing to obscene to legitimately alarming. Is this due to the simple law of averages, or does it reveal a darker truth about how we respond to images of women, especially when they are effectively presented as products?

“We believe that this project will hopefully raise a conversation about how society views women,” Garcia says. “We often pass beautiful women in advertisements that have been defaced, and we just took a closer look at the words and images that were used to deface these women, which we found disturbing. We contemplated about re-facing the ads by fixing these images of women, but why not expose society’s mindset towards figures of women that are openly left for all to see?”

The fact that the aforementioned conversation has become especially prominent in recent months most certainly does not mean that it should end now. The project’s website also encourages viewers to visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, though it was not affiliated with the group.

Regarding the creatives’ approach, Garcia writes, “We simply recycled damaged ads into ads of more importance. We’re young creatives that want to do as many personal projects as we can because it’s when we are free to do what we want (for now!).”

Remember when you felt the same way?