An art instructor at a B.C. university says one of his works is being held hostage until he complies with demands that it never be returned to campus, but school officials say the extremely unflattering sculpture of the university’s president amounts to workplace harassment.
George Rammell, a sculptor and art instructor at Capilano University in North Vancouver, created the piece around this time last year to protest against major cuts under president Kris Bulcroft that decimated several programs, including studio arts, computer science and interactive design.
The sculpture has been on display on campus and off for weeks, but was “seized in the dark of night” last week by school security, Mr. Rammell said.
Standing about two metres tall, the acrylic polymer casting – called Blathering on in Krisendom (video) – is a caricature of Dr. Bulcroft and her poodle as ventriloquists. A large U.S. flag is draped around both. (Dr. Bulcroft is American.)
“I’m a sculptor, not a writer, and I felt more comfortable responding to some injustices going on up here by making a sculpture,” Mr. Rammell said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s a satirical sculpture in the tradition of the way the British satirized Margaret Thatcher.”
Jane Shackell, board chair at the university, was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but said in a statement the effigy was removed from campus on her direction.
“Our university is committed to the open and vigorous discourse that is essential in an academic community, the inherent value of artistic expression, and the rights to free speech and protest that all Canadians enjoy,” Ms. Shackell said.
“No one wants Capilano to be a place where art is arbitrarily removed or censored.
“We must also be mindful of the university’s obligations to cultivate and protect a respectful workplace in which personal harassment and bullying are prohibited. … I am satisfied that recently the effigy has been used in a manner amounting to workplace harassment of an individual employee, intended to belittle and humiliate the president.”
But Mr. Rammell said his intention was to make an “anti-monument.”
“It ties right in with what I teach, in terms of deconstructing and pulling the veil off things.”
For a while, the artist stored the sculpture in his downtown Vancouver studio. In April, it was in a solo faculty exhibition at the university’s studio art gallery, and earlier this month, in an exhibition at the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. He then moved it back to the studio art gallery at the university – from where it was taken last Wednesday.
“I called security. They said they had orders from the top to remove it,” Mr. Rammell said. “So I called the RCMP and described a theft. The RCMP came down two hours later and [the officer] told me [the administrators] asked him if they would be liable if they destroyed the work of art.”
Mr. Rammell said he is concerned by an e-mail from vice-president Cindy Turner that said the artwork was “dismantled” for the move.
“I’d love to know what ‘dismantled’ means,” he said. “It’s a solid casting on a steel frame. You can’t dismantle it. I don’t know what they’ve done to it.”
The university’s administration has offered to return the sculpture to Mr. Rammell if he will keep it off campus. Mr. Rammell said while he will not exhibit it on campus, he has a right to work on it at the university during professional development time.
“I want to add model hands and a university mace to it,” he said.
On April 28, a Supreme Court judge sided with the Capilano University Faculty Association’s argument that the decision to cut programs was made without proper consultationunder the University Act. Capilano’s administration is considering whether to pursue an appeal.