Artist says he’s never re­ceived this much hate mail be­fore:

Calgary Sun - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA JUNKER ajunker@post­ @Junker Anna

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

GAviN YoUNG/poST­mediA

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