Monument Visibility, Racial Inclusion and Immigration History in Canada
On July 11, 2019, Patience Adamu, Deon Castello and Wendy Cukier have published an article entitled “How Public is Public Art? A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Racial Subtext of Public Monuments at Canada’s Pier 21” in Open Philosophy.
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
In their paper, Patience Adamu, Deon Castello and Wendy Cukier have explored the implications of the monuments “The Volunteers/Les Bénévoles, and The Emigrant, located outside the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia” (126). The argument these authors present is that, from the racial minority perspective, these monuments can be perceived not as testaments to the celebration of Canadian multiculturalism, but as designed to signal “Canada’s enduring commitment to white supremacy, Eurocentricity and colonization” (126).
These researchers stress the historical context of the urban space in which these monuments are located, as. situated on Canada’s “east coast, Pier 21 is best known as the port of arrival of thousands of immigrants and a place that commemorates Canada’s role in the Great Depression, the efforts of the Second World War and the Holocaust, associating this space as a place of refuge, hospitality and humanity” (127). Theoretically, this paper relates the visibility of these public works of art to the Foucauldian notions of “control and normalization” (128). As the researchers indicate, created by Marlene Hilton Moore, “The Volunteers/Les Bénévoles, [is] a monument commissioned by the Halifax Women’s History Society [that] was unveiled” (128) in 2017. Similarly, as the paper notes, “[i]n 2013, the family of sculptor Armando Barbon donated a monument, entitled The Emigrant, to Pier 21” (130).
As part of their analysis, Adamu, Castello and Cukier have used the theories of Philomena Essed on everyday and systemic racism and Kendall Walton on categories of art, to argue that “[t]he representation of Black women in The Volunteers is a physical reminder of Canada’s tolerance and its struggle with inclusion” (132). Likewise, their reading of The Emigrant monument suggests that the positioning of its textual inscriptions can be perceived as indicating that “some continents are forward-thinking (continents in front of the emigrant) and others are backwards (continents behind the emigrant)” (133). Consequently, these researchers have arrived at a conclusion that, “[s]ince cultural hegemony is not possible without domination, the public art produced through this process will very likely be oppressive […] [and that] [i]t is the responsibility of public art curators and other officials to put in place processes to create inclusive public spaces” (134).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: Pier 21 in Halifax, Canada, July 14, 2004 | © Courtesy of Brad Saunders/Flickr.