News / Calgary

Public sculpture a 'problematic' representation of Indigenous culture

Siksika artist Adrian Stimson says work looks like traditional Blackfoot burial platforms.

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

The first half of a new public art installation at the Trans Canada Highway and Bowfort Road interchange.

Controversy erupted this weekend after a new art installation went up on the Trans Canada Highway leading into Calgary – with many saying the piece appropriates from Indigenous Blackfoot culture.

Created by New York artists Del Geist and Patricia Leighton, the piece features a dozen upright beams supporting rocks.

But local Siksika artist Adrian Stimson is not alone in the feeling that it looks like traditional Blackfoot burial platforms.

Geist spoke to Metro and said the piece isn’t a Blackfoot sculpture, but the pair did communicate with Blackfoot elders, and said the piece references the Blackfoot symbolism around the number four. Other than that, he claimed it had no Blackfoot influence.

Stimson, however, isn’t buying it.

“It is problematic, regardless of what the artist says about it,” he said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at the same time, Blackfoot people, and a lot of Indigenous people I’ve talked to, that’s all they see. No amount of trying to explain what it actually is will help that.”   

In a time where there is more dialogue than ever about reconciliation, Stimson feels that the City of Calgary dropped the ball in commissioning this project without a meaningful consultation with Blackfoot people, especially given the artist and the city’s official website referenced the piece as aligning with Blackfoot cultural symbolism.

“Even though the artist said he grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota and has Sioux friends, that makes it kind of worse,” Stimson explained. “He’s been around the culture and he should know better – he should know it’s going to trigger somebody.”

Stimson has created Canadian public sculptures in the past, and stated that if the city wanted an accurate representation of First Nations culture, they could have made an effort to choose a local artist with stronger ties to the local culture.

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