STICKS STONES ’n’
Artist says he’s never received this much hate mail before:
The artist under fire for the latest art installation in Calgary says he’s “sorry if anyone feels offended” by the piece.
Thursday’s announcement of the Bowfort Towers — steel beams cradling Rundle rock — immediately had social media erupt in controversy around the New York artist, the $500,000 price tag and the fact many of the Blackfoot people say it looks too similar to traditional burial scaffolds.
Del Geist, the artist behind the piece, said he has been making art for over 40 years and said he has done sculptures like the Bowfort Towers all across the world without controversy like he’s seeing in Calgary.
“I’m getting hate mail because of you people. I’ve never had that in my life, in 40 years of doing public art everywhere, ever. It’s because of how the press is going for the sensation and stirring it.”
Addressing the issues surrounding the likeness of his art to burial scaffolds, Geist told Postmedia he’s familiar with burial scaffolds, his artwork is not that and it’s “inappropriate” to refer to them that way.
“I grew up in North Dakota amongst the Sioux Indians or Native Americans as they’re called over there, went to school with them, played basketball with them, the works. Their culture is what I’ve understood since I was born,” said Geist.
“I surely had known they had raised scaffolding structures there, the Knife River Indians certainly did that, but these don’t look like that. They were flat at the top. These are angles, these are presented differently and if you want to drag that kind of symbolism which is completely wrong and inappropriate to my work, you’re grasping at straws.”
Terrance Houle, a local Blackfoot artist said that’s an “appalling attitude” towards burial structures.
“For the Indigenous people who are deeply rooted in their Indigeneity to comment and say, no, that looks like a burial site and for us, that’s a significant thing, well to say ‘that’s not my intention, that’s not what it was and I’m still putting it up in public, you guys are wrong,’ that’s just a bad attitude about it,” said Houle.
“The more I think about it the more my heart just breaks and breaks and breaks.”
Geist said by being advised by Blackfoot elders, whom he refused to name, and using the number four, which is important in Blackfoot culture as it represents the four elements, four seasons, four stages of life, he is respecting them.
“I’m fully on their side, I would not make a Blackfoot sculpture, ever. It’s not my culture but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect them,” said Geist. “I researched the Blackfoot people enormously, but that’s nothing. I was trying to be careful not to step on anyone’s ground or toes because they’re important people to me.”
Michelle Robinson, who is Indigenous and running for councillor in Ward 10, said Geist can have “all the respect in the world that he wants” but at the end of the day, looking at the board responsible for approving the artwork, she couldn’t find any Indigenous person on it.
“This is public money on public policy so either the policy has to start naming elders (and) if he did do a consultation, they better have gotten paid. There should be a money trail for that,” said Robinson.
“If no money was given to an elder, then as far as I’m concerned there was no consultation.” Another element to the art piece that has Calgarians up-in-arms is the $500,000 price tag. Geist wants to clarify exactly where that money went.
“The fabricator on this was Metal Fab and they’re brilliant. They also did Poppy (Plaza) using the same metal,” said Geist.
“Over 90 per cent of the budget on that work was in Calgary to Calgarians on all aspects of this piece, supporting various families and workers.”
Geist refused to give the dollar amount he obtained from this project.
“I’m fully on their side, I would not make a Blackfoot sculpture, ever. It’s not my culture but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect them.” del geist