News / Calgary

Artist behind contentious Calgary public art blames 'misunderstanding'

Artist Derek Besant asked that the $20,000 artwork be taken down from a Calgary underpass

A comedian from the United Kingdom says photos of her and her colleagues, shown in a handout, were used without their knowledge in artwork funded by the city of Calgary.&quotSnapshots", a series of giant photographs, was installed along the 4 Street S.W. underpass in 2015 at a cost of $20,000.

Canadian Press/ City of Calgary / File

A comedian from the United Kingdom says photos of her and her colleagues, shown in a handout, were used without their knowledge in artwork funded by the city of Calgary."Snapshots", a series of giant photographs, was installed along the 4 Street S.W. underpass in 2015 at a cost of $20,000.

The artist commissioned to produce a Calgary public art display, since removed due to backlash over photos used without consent, said he didn't mean to hurt anyone involved.

Comedians in the UK were surprised to see their faces used in the $20,000 Calgary public art project without their consent. Many of the images were determined to have come from a 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Fest brochure.

Artist Derek Besant said he thought the photos were public domain when he first found them.

"When I received some torn out pages from a handout flyer with these faces, my impression was they were already public domain," he wrote Metro in an emailed statement.

"Therefore, I thought they could be collage as backgrounds to be further interrupted with text elements for the 4th Street community art-site concept."

Besant added he wanted the project to represent strangers that could be from anywhere or any city.

"In no way did I ever mean to hurt anyone involved and I am extremely sorry that this is the result of my misunderstanding."

The controversy first erupted over Twitter when UK comedian Bisha Ali noticed that her face was used in the public art project Snapshots, under the 4 Street SW underpass. A Canadian friend sent her the image.

Snapshots was a series of six-by-seven feet polaroids, put up as as a temporary installation during construction. Each polaroid features a blurred out picture and quote.

“He has used that picture of me and passed it off as a photograph he has taken for his installation of people who use the underpass” Ali told Metro. “He has also used photographs of other UK based comedians without their consent/knowledge.

“I also doubted myself - maybe Calgary is a city full of dopplegangers?”

Besant told Metro in a 2015 interview that the quotes were from people who he met and talked to around the underpass. The photos were meant to represent people from around the area.

The City of Calgary took down the artwork at Besant’s request and will further investigate the situation. The art installation was already scheduled to come down when work was complete on the underpass.

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