Sculptor defends controversial Bowfort Towers

Sculptor defends controversial Bowfort Towers
ANNA JUNKER, Postmedia Network
First posted: Sunday, August 06, 2017 01:14 AM EDT | Updated: Sunday, August 06, 2017 10:56 AM EDT
The artist under fire for the latest art installation in Calgary says he’s “sorry if anyone feels offended” by the piece.
Thursday’s announcement of the Bowfort Towers — steel beams cradling Rundle rock — immediately had social media erupt in controversy around the New York artist, the $500,000 price tag and the fact many of the Blackfoot people say it looks too similar to traditional burial scaffolds.
Del Geist, the artist behind the piece, said he has been making art for over 40 years and said he has done sculptures like the Bowfort Towers all across the world without controversy like he’s seeing in Calgary.
“I’m getting hate mail because of you people. I’ve never had that in my life, in 40 years of doing public art everywhere, ever. It’s because of how the press is going for the sensation and stirring it.”
Addressing the issues surrounding the likeness of his art to burial scaffolds, Geist told Postmedia he’s familiar with burial scaffolds, his artwork is not that and it’s “inappropriate” to refer to them that way.
“I grew up in North Dakota amongst the Sioux Indians or Native Americans as they’re called over there, went to school with them, played basketball with them, the works. Their culture is what I’ve understood since I was born,” said Geist.
“I surely had known they had raised scaffolding structures there, the Knife River Indians certainly did that, but these don’t look like that. They were flat at the top. These are angles, these are presented differently and if you want to drag that kind of symbolism which is completely wrong and inappropriate to my work, you’re grasping at straws.”
Terrance Houle, a local Blackfoot artist said that’s an “appalling attitude” towards burial structures.
“For the Indigenous people who are deeply rooted in their Indigeneity to comment and say, no, that looks like a burial site and for us, that’s a significant thing, well to say ‘that’s not my intention, that’s not what it was and I’m still putting it up in public, you guys are wrong,’ that’s just a bad attitude about it,” said Houle.
“The more I think about it the more my heart just breaks and breaks and breaks.”
Geist said by being advised by Blackfoot elders, whom he refused to name, and using the number four, which is important in Blackfoot culture as it represents the four elements, four seasons, four stages of life, he is respecting them.
“I’m fully on their side, I would not make a Blackfoot sculpture, ever. It’s not my culture but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect them,” said Geist. “I researched the Blackfoot people enormously, but that’s nothing. I was trying to be careful not to step on anyone’s ground or toes because they’re important people to me.”
Michelle Robinson, who is Indigenous and running for councillor in Ward 10, said Geist can have “all the respect in the world that he wants” but at the end of the day, looking at the board responsible for approving the artwork, she couldn’t find any Indigenous person on it.
“This is public money on public policy so either the policy has to start naming elders (and) if he did do a consultation, they better have gotten paid. There should be a money trail for that,” said Robinson.
“If no money was given to an elder, then as far as I’m concerned there was no consultation.”
Another element to the art piece that has Calgarians up-in-arms is the $500,000 price tag. Geist wants to clarify exactly where that money went.
“The fabricator on this was Metal Fab and they’re brilliant. They also did Poppy (Plaza) using the same metal,” said Geist.
“Over 90 per cent of the budget on that work was in Calgary to Calgarians on all aspects of this piece, supporting various families and workers.”
Geist refused to give the dollar amount he obtained from this project.
The Bowfort Towers public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia.

Sculptor defends controversial Bowfort Towers | Canada | News | Toronto Sun
Cultural appropriation is a sin these days. Although I don't recall any Pre contact natives having steel girders.

It is pretty ugly though. SHould have got a Canadian artist to make something.
Tsuut'ina Nation blasts controversial art installation
First posted: Tuesday, August 08, 2017 06:56 PM EDT | Updated: Tuesday, August 08, 2017 07:02 PM EDT
CALGARY - Tsuut'ina First Nation is criticizing the city of Calgary for not having Indigenous consultation in the controversial Bowfort Towers while offering assistance moving forward.
The sculpture — four towers of steel beams cradling Rundle rock — was unveiled Aug. 3 and almost immediately became controversial. Many are voicing concerns and anger over the $500,000 total price tag, the location along the Trans-Canada highway on the city's west side, lack of local talent and the similarities between the piece and traditional Blackfoot burial structures.
Tsuut'ina Nation weighed in on the controversy Tuesday afternoon, saying they waited until now to have the time to thoughtfully review the exhibit and its background.
"Tsuut'ina believes that attempting to reflect First Nations art or symbolism in the absence of collaboration with local First Nations artists and elders is not reflective of other recent steps by Calgary City Hall to respect Treaty 7 Nations," said Kevin Littlelight, spokesperson for Tsuut'ina in a press release.
"These steps have included progress on executing on the terms of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the raising of Treaty 7's flag at City Hall. Tsuut'ina will gladly supply elders and cultural experts to assist in determining what the next steps are for this exhibit — an exhibit that is causing serious concern among both First Nation and non-First Nation people in Calgary and area."
Chief Joseph Weasel Child of Siksika First Nation said he will address the issue in an upcoming meeting with Mayor Naheed Nenshi, which was previously scheduled before the announcement of the artwork. He also plans to meet with other Blackfoot Chiefs before addressing the issue publicly.
Evelyn Good Striker with the city's Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee, which has provided the city with an 84-page Indigenous Policy Framework, said the committee was not consulted at any time during the process of implementing this latest public artwork.
Madeleine King, chair of the public art board said back when the call for proposals went out in 2015, the board confirmed the appropriate process had been gone through.
"Our input was this was a very significant gateway welcoming people into Calgary and so we hoped that great care would be taken over the public art," said King.
When asked if the Blackfoot people were consulted during that process, King said to her understanding, there definitely was "some sort of consultation" with them, but she does not know "the nature of it, who, or how many, or over what period of time."
In the meantime, city public art officials and Mayor Naheed Nenshi have so far decided not to comment on the controversy.
On Saturday, Nenshi told Postmedia he would provide comments on Tuesdayy however, a spokesman said he was unavailable.
On Twitter: @JunkerAnna
The Bowfort Towers public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange was photographed on Thursday August 3, 2017. Bowfort Towers was created by artist Del Geist using steel beams with Rundle rock suspended within them. The towers are one half of the public art at the interchange with another piece to be installed on the north side of the highway.

Tsuut'ina Nation blasts controversial art installation | Canada | News | Toronto

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