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Shaping the future When it comes to replacing Queen Victoria statue, visions vary, but artists agree it’s a chance to change perspective on province

One year after the Queen Victoria statue was toppled by protesters on the legislative grounds, the Manitoba government has deemed it irreparable. Now, a question that has been percolating since after July 1, 2021, remains: what will go in its place, and who will decide?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/07/2022 (209 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One year after the Queen Victoria statue was toppled by protesters on the legislative grounds, the Manitoba government has deemed it irreparable. Now, a question that has been percolating since after July 1, 2021, remains: what will go in its place, and who will decide?

One local urban planner proposes a project he believes would allow for a diversity of perspectives. Lawrence Bird, who works for Sputnik Architecture, envisions a “legislative plinth” with changing displays.

“It’s an opportunity to put stuff in the public art, to spur debate over issues that matter right now, and also highlight why art matters,” Bird said. “It can be something that various people over a period of time have an opportunity to contribute (to).”

The idea would follow in the footsteps of the English Fourth Plinth. Originally intended to house an equestrian statue of William IV, there weren’t enough funds to install it. Debate raged for 150 years before the City of London decided to commission contemporary artworks to be exhibited on the plinth.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Architect Lawrence Bird says a replacement work is an opportunity ‘to spur debate over issues that matter right now, and also highlight why art matters.’

Today, the world-renowned plinth is home to a changing display of public art in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Bird is not the only one to express his hopes for the plinth’s future. Last year, several Indigenous artists and curators shared their visions of what might occupy the grounds. Kenneth Lavallee, a Métis visual artist, proposed a shell and sweetgrass sculpture in place of the statue.

“You burn sweetgrass to cleanse your mind and spirit, the environment and space. I thought this place could use a good cleansing,” Lavallee told the CBC recently.

“I’ve been talking about the queen for a long time: that particular sculpture, how out of place it seemed here. Front row, centre. Why does she get the best spot? She’s never been here. She doesn’t really represent anything of Manitoba or its people.”

While Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen had said there have been ongoing discussions with Indigenous groups about what might replace the statue, no official plan has been released.

LAWRENCE BIRDLawrence Bird’s vision is a ‘legislative plinth’ with changing displays by various artists.

Throughout the process, Cathy Mattes, an associate professor of the history of art at the University of Winnipeg, said incorporating Indigenous curatorial practices will be crucial.

“It’s beneficial to involve Indigenous curators who are really focused on engaging with stakeholders and to recognize art as a catalyst for social change,” Mattes said.

Indigenous curatorial practices encompass a vast range of traditions and protocols but generally involve considerable dialogue and consultation, focusing on connecting the past, present and future, Mattes said.

“It’s very much about recognizing art at this time as being a continuum of the past,” Mattes said. “It’s an offering, it’s a visual language that is beneficial to all and really, I think, helps secure cultural ties and kinship ties to the land.”

KC ADAMS PHOTO Cathy Mattes, associate professor of the history of art at the University of Winnipeg, stresses that involving Indigenous curatorial practices is crucial.

Engaging with Indigenous curators, artists and other stakeholders through a “team effort” can help foster this, she added, citing The Forks public art program as an example. Accordingly, Bird believes a legislative plinth would provide ample opportunities for community discussions.

“It’s really hard to pin down these days what symbols represent us,” Bird said. “I don’t know if there is one figure or one work of art that can go there that will really define us.”

Both Bird and Mattes agree Indigenous artistic representation should be a top priority. Mattes adds context is a crucial element as well.

“For myself, when I think about the life of that statue, I would hone in on why it was put up originally,” said Mattes. “What was the context of that time? What is the impact of the context of that time now? What is the response and where are we now?

“What is possible for the future?”

While Bird hasn’t formally submitted his proposal — he’s only shared it among his social media circle thus far — he said he’d be happy to discuss it with local arts councils and organizations.

“The whole point of this idea is that it should be a public process,” Bird said. “It’s an opportunity to test out different approaches to art and different ways of looking at our province.”

ciara.bettens@winnipegfreepress.com

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