In this post, I'm going to talk about two incidents that happened around the same time and have very different contexts, but both revolve around an act of vandalism. The first incident happened in Athens, Greece and the second was local to me, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Last week I received a press release from Lise at Feral Horses (read their guest post here) alerting me to an unfortunate incident involving artwork by Tasos Nyfadopoulos, a Greek artist and part of the Feral Horses family of artists. Nyfadopoulos's public art piece "Crisis" was disfigured with a hammer by "Priest Kleomenis" , a fanatic Greek priest who thinks that the artwork is "evil". The priest filmed himself taking a hammer to "Crisis" and later uploaded the video to YouTube. In the video he urges his followers to join in his cause. Other videos on his channel show him vandalizing ATM machines and urging people to fight the system. The sculpture “Crisis”, a monument considered to be of national heritage, was conceived to make people reflect about the financial crisis, which had deeply affected the Greek population in the last few years. It was Nyfadopoulos's gift to the city of Athens in 2015 and the first sculpture to deal with such a topic. The sculpture consists of a financial index and a man, portraying the man’s psychological condition. “Crisis” conveys an internal and moral message to society to learn from our mistakes, change our behavior and take necessary precautions in order to prevent crisis in the future. The artist wanted to remind people to not forget history but learn from it and intended for the sculpture to stand there to remind of this historical and crucial period that affected people’s lives dramatically.
The artist was very shocked by the attack and denounced it with the authorities. He also released a video on YouTube to better explain the attack and what the next steps will be. The video quickly went viral in Greece and elsewhere too, witnessing a rise in views. The artist will soon start a crowd funding page to raise money and pay for repairs to the sculpture damages and for the legal expenses he is facing. The gesture has rightly been condemned by public opinion. At Feral Horses, they believe that attacks such as this should be denounced as much as possible: they believe that spreading the truth about the acts of few foolish people is the most impactful way to sensitize people to show respect for art.
A few days after the press release from Lise and after I had already started a post about vandalism of public art, I attended an open to the public group discussion at THE MUSEUM to talk about an act of vandalism that happened the night before or in the early hours of Canada Day. My post about Canada 150 and THE MUSEUM's current exhibition "A Cause for Celebration? First Things First" provides some background information. An individual, or individuals, defaced the large Canadian flag that adorned the front of the building. It was splattered with a black substance and a banner reading "150+ years of resistance #unsettling 150" was left behind, draped on top of the flag. The flag was removed for cleaning and the banner is now part of the "A Cause for Celebration? First Things First" exhibition. The incident received a lot of local and provincial press and prompted THE MUSEUM to host a "Reconciliation Dialogue". Attendance to the event was free with a suggested donation of $10.00. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Woodland Cultural Centre's Save the Evidence Campaign, which aims to ensure that the physical evidence of the dark history of Residential Schools in Canada is never forgotten.
Both of the acts were meant to send a message and start a conversation. The damage to "Crisis" was an episode where art and artist were victims of close-minded ideologies. I felt bad for the artist and I can't imagine what it would feel like to have your hard work and your vision destroyed. The monument stood for two years without incident. In my research for this post, I came across countless politically or religiously motivated acts of art vandalism, or in some instances the art simply disturbed people, causing them to lash out and damage or destroy the art. Acid, paint, knives, firearms, gum, even lipstick has been used as instruments of destruction. Some art pieces have been subject to repeated vandalism like the Mona Lisa, and Little Mermaid in Denmark. The results are costly repairs and restoration, and sometimes, reduced access to the public.
In the case of THE MUSEUM, I can't say that I'm overly surprised that something like this happened. One could say that the motive behind the act parallels the reason why the sculpture "Crisis" was created. Someone wanted to remind people to not forget history but learn from it and the damage to the flag and the message on the banner were there to remind people of a historical and crucial period that affected people’s lives dramatically and is still doing so.
The moderator of the dialogue started by sharing some comments made on social media. The comments were varied and heated. Along with some in the audience, many online voices were disgusted by the defacement of the flag itself and what they called a lack of Canadian pride, or disrespect to the country; some even called it a hate crime (as per the police it is not a hate crime). The conversation began in a way that suggested that an Indigenous person or persons were behind the damage and the banner. Audience members from the Indigenous community were quick to rightly point out that nobody knows who was responsible and there are a lot of allies, so assuming the identity was not the right thing to do.
Other audience highlights from the dialogue:
-The act was necessary and successful because it resulted in a conversation like this. If this hadn't happened, Canada Day would have been a regular day with fireworks and BBQ and we would have carried on as we normally do
-Others wondered why we were even discussing this as vandalism instead of as an act of resistance and felt that acts of resistance should not be criminalized
-Let's reframe this from vandalism and call it interventionist art and education
-Many felt that the damaged flag and the banner should have stayed up as it represents the black marks on Canada's history, and keeping it up would keep the discussion going
-There was criticism that placing the banner in the museum (which is on Indigenous land) takes it out of context and now is not accessible to everyone, as there is a cost to enter the museum
- The 94 Calls of Action listed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada were brought up and the audience was encouraged to look at them if they were not already familiar
I'm certain that the conversation could have gone on for several hours or could even have turned into a series of conversations. The majority of the crowd were in agreement that the conversation was necessary and thanked THE MUSEUM for hosting this dialogue. We wondered how to move forward and how to reach and educate those who were not in the room. The CEO of THE MUSEUM released a statement the day after the dialogue.
What are your thoughts? How do you feel about public art being vandalized? Is there a "right" way to protest? Is vandalism okay if it leads to a meaningful discussion like the Reconciliation Dialogue?
Story by Glodeane Brown with information provided by Feral Horses.
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"Crisis" photo and YouTube still from Feral Horses press release
"Reconciliation Dialogue" crowd photo by KW Tonite