Thursday, May 24, 2007

B.C. Boobies, Redux

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.


JimBobby said...

Whooee! Was one o' them five options stickin' pasties on the pointy parts?

If it's truly fine art, we oughta look at it in it's historical perspective. I was at the AGO a coupla months ago lookin' at some Ansel Adams photos. On my way out, I took a gander at some of the AGO's collection. There was a 18th century paintin' with a buncha dead animals waitin' to go into the stew. They shot song birds fer snacks an' painted pitchers glorifyin' it.

When we look at them paintings -- like some of the guillotine and some other gruesome stuff, we put it into historical perspective.

The atheists found it offensive havin' the 10 Commandments in that Merkan courthouse so they had to take 'em out. I reckon they oughta be lookin' at the paintings as historical art but if they find it offensive showin' BBFNW then they done the right thing takin' 'em down just like them crackers done right when they hauled them stone tablets away.


Anonymous said...

too bad it wasn't a painting depicting a slave trade auction like the ones that the west coast aboriginals carried on for centuries until the British RN put a stop to it.

Imagine, immoral aboriginals being slavers . . someone should apologize and pay restitution.

But that can't be depicted in the PC world of liberals& dippers.

Pity. The truth can set you free. Them too.

Tania said...

I've read the comment about BC First Nations being slave owners before and I've never questioned it. However, I would like historical proof that it actually existed. Can you tell me which BC First Nation owned, bought and sold slaves? I'd be interested in knowing given I know neither of mine (I belong to two given my parents are both FN from different areas of the province) didn't. I have friends from various parts of the province and not once did I ever hear it brought up and I haven't heard about it in any meetings I've attended.

As for the artwork, who would stand around in the buildings to read about the portrait to get educated?

Regardless of the intent, I'm glad it's being moved. People, as they should with art, would get an historical inaccurate pricture of our history and believe it to be true given the location.

As for the comment, "respect for our ancestors who built this province". I would respectfully say the province was built centuries before it was ever a "province" so again, it would be a description of Europeans settling, not discovering or building.

Anonymous said...

A province is a social/legal construct, which was indeed built by the European settlers. Not by the first immigrants.

Slavery has existed since man has existed. And white Europeans were among the FIRST cultures to abolish slavery, not the last.

Anonymous said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

What this meant was that the US gov't would not select a specific religion to be the state religion, as there had been in Europe. They saw the trouble that it caused. But it in no way implied that there should not be religion in gov't, nor that the states couldn't pass their own laws regarding religion. This is because the states often had their own common religious sects, and their states rights to do as each state saw fit w.r.t. religion was protected by saying that CONGRESS (federal) couldn't make any laws establishing a religion.

Only a fool would insist that it means there shouldn't be any religious activity or references at all in government.

Anonymous said...

"However, I would like historical proof that it actually existed. Can you tell me which BC First Nation owned, bought and sold slaves?"

bigcitylib said...

The material about West Coast Indian slavery is interesting but perhaps not relevant. Would anon have us replace the murals with pictures of Indians whipping their slaves naked bottoms?

Or perhaps we could paint a reproduction of that scene outside of Victoria when settlers sold blankets they knew to be infected with small-pox to the local Indian population, in one of the first known instances of bio-chemical warfare.

Anonymous said...

"The material about West Coast Indian slavery is interesting but perhaps not relevant."

So PC.

So biased.

So racist

Ti-Guy said...

Biff. The style is instantly recognisable.

Anonymous said...

White europeans were among the first to abolish slavery, which has been with mankind since the beginning.