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City will not install commissioned Walterdale Bridge sculptures

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The city has decided against installing a pair of commissioned sculptures at the Walterdale Bridge.

According to a statement from the city issued on Wednesday, the decision was made not to install thembecause of the potential that the artwork could be misinterpreted as a celebration of colonization.

“Through the City’s previous experiences, such as the coordination of the removal of Government Centre LRT Station murals, we listened to the community and the sharing of their discomfort and pain that the artwork caused," the statement reads.

"This demonstrated the importance of listening and acting from the principle of ‘do no harm’, to mitigate negative impacts to Indigenous Peoples that have experienced the harms associated with colonization and loss of culture, language, and spiritual practices,” the city added.

The artwork is a pair of bronze sculptures. One is of a bison, the other of a fur trader.

The piece was intended to highlight Edmonton’s role in the history of fur trading.

 

Proposed locations for the Walterdale Bridge sculptures. (Source: Ken Lum)

Artist Ken Lum was commissioned to do the pieces in 2012 through the city’s Percent for Art Program.

The cost of the sculptures was $375,000, and they were completed in 2016, according to the city.

Lum sent the following written statement to CTV News Edmonton about the city's decision:

"The work went through enormous oversight and approval from civic officials. It is not as though the work appeared in a vacuum. Perhaps the city is not ready for a real dialogue about its colonial past and the conditions of coloniality that continue to mark the present. That was my intention with the work: not to celebrate colonialism as the city suggests."

Native studies and art and design professor Tanya Harnett says the sculptures should be installed.

“I can see that this artist did his homework. He did some research,” she told CTV News Edmonton.

“You can’t have things just edited out, there’s a problem with doing that sort of thing, and it’s a denial.

The fur trader would have been positioned near a known Indigenous burial ground at Rossdale Flats, but neither the city nor the Edmonton Arts Council can explain what the problem is with the sculptures.

“The overall piece was something that was flagged as potentially harmful, and that’s, that’s all there is to it at this point,” said David Turnbull of Edmonton Arts Council.

“We and the city take a stance of ‘do no harm.’”

Harnett thinks the sculptures will spark an important conversation about the city’s history.

“The subject matter may be difficult for some, but it’s not really, it’s not difficult. It’s just Edmonton history.”

The city has asked the Edmonton Arts Council to start the process of removing the art from the city’s collection.

The sculptures could either end up back with the artist or in a museum.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson.

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