Climbing into Controversy
by Solmaz Salehi
Dr. Harry Rosen, whose statue The Climber was gifted to Dawson on the 11th anniversary of the shooting, has passed away on November 15, 2018. He lost his battle against pancreatic cancer at the age of 89. The sculpture, which was installed in front of the Dawson Theater, is causing controversy due to its different cultural points of view.
The sculptor himself described his art as a tool to “[seek] enlightenment through education,” adding in an interview with CBC News, “You see steps that the climber is mounting on. He's gotten to the top. He's now at the top on his mountain of rock, but he still has one arm up in the air, seeking the ultimate.”
The statue has received a lot of negative feedback from the Fine Arts Department, who noted in their Position Paper, published on November 20th, 2017, that they wanted it removed due to the inappropriate cultural issues.
“It is like the college slapped us in the face by putting the statue [in front of the art department],” stated Juan Gomez-Perales, Coordinator of the Visual Arts Program and author of the paper.
The sculpture appears to be doing a Nazi salute and resembles an inukshuk. It is deemed problematic because it “represents the worst of cultural appropriation in the sense that the artist has ‘unknowingly’ incorporated sensitive symbolic meaning in the work,” as stated in Gomez-Perales’ Position Paper. The Inuit landmark is traditionally a symbol of hope and friendship. However, an inukshuk that has its arm raised defines unsafe and dangerous sites that must be avoided, such as places where people have committed suicide.
“This piece had no symbolic meaning. [The College] could show the tragic event in a better way,” deplored Indigenous ALC student Raven Edwards-Brown.
Another concern is the fact that the statue cost $10 000 to be installed, although international sculptor Murry McDonald, who used to work at Dawson, had attempted to donate a statue to the College, which was refused. The process of how an art piece gets accepted to be installed on the campus is still unclear.
Director General Richard Filion explained that the reasoning behind accepting The Climber was that it was “a nice gesture” and contained “a metaphor of appreciation of life behind it.” He also explained how it is fascinating that a then nearly 88 year-old man was able to make a statue using stones he gathered from nature.
The Climber is an extremely lively piece of art. People will always interpret it differently; some focus on its positive aspects and others focus on the negative ones. However, shouldn’t the College take into consideration the potential controversy surrounding its displayed artworks?