As I wrote about here, after years of complaints from First Nation leaders, four murals in the B.C. legislature, including one portraying several Indian women in states of partial undress, are coming down because, it is argued, natives are portrayed in them "as a conquered and subservient people".
Recently, a number of West Coast writers have lamented the imminent disappearance of these murals. For example, Terry O'Neill writes that:
Notwithstanding the debate over the murals’ artistic and historical significance, or over the artist's intentions when he created the works, for me the issue comes down to one thing, respect: respect for our ancestors who built this province, launched our treasured form of government, and commissioned and approved those murals in the first place.
This does not necessarily mean any disrespect to the aboriginal people who now find the murals offensive; rather, as Premier Campbell has often suggested of late, it is assuming they are our equals. As such, they should be judicious enough to respect the heritage of non-aboriginals, just as they are quite rightly asking us to respect their heritage. It should work both ways.
Unfortunately, as a non-aboriginal ex-B.C. native I find it difficult to put aside the question of artistic merit. Because in fact the B.C. Legislature murals share a feature of much government sponsored art: they are boring (despite the nudity!). It has often been written that being chosen a nation's poet laureate is good for the poet's wallet but bad for their poetry, and perhaps something similar applies to visual artists as well. In any case, I am personally unable to see how my White heritage is going to be threatened by removing a couple of bad paintings (especially as they will live on as reproductions), and I will not feel "disrespected" if they disappear.
Another bad idea, it seems to me, is propounded by a Mary Woo Sims, who suggests that:
One of the five options was to leave the murals as they are and add some explanatory material. I believe this option merited more discussion and expansion. Why not talk about the fact that the murals perpetuated colonial attitudes and negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people, and the implications of such a depiction being in a legislative building? How about a more interactive educational discussion in front of the murals?
For one thing, adding explanatory material to a painting that people find offensive will not necessarily do anything to render that painting any less offensive to those people, so it does not solve the problem at issue. For another, it strikes me that this response really does smack of Political Correctness: the murals are allowed to stay on the condition that they serve as the topic for some kind of lecture. They are made examples of, in other words. Which seems a fate worse than destruction, frankly.
No. The decision that has already been made is the best one possible under the circumstances. Take 'em down and put 'em in storage, replace 'em with pictures of a water-fall or ducks or something.
h/t the Shotgun Blog.