Fifty-three days after George Rammell’s unflattering sculpture of a B.C. university president was seized by campus security last May, the professor’s work was returned in pieces.
The acrylic head of Kris Bulcroft, Capilano University’s president, had been severed from its base, grinders had bit into the steel frame and the back of a moulded poodle’s head was bashed in.
The shards are now being built into a new effigy, larger and more elaborate than the old statue. The first sculpture had been a protest against major cuts to the university’s art programs by Ms. Bulcroft.
With the studio arts program now shuttered by the cuts, Mr. Rammell is out of work and feeling wronged.
“What happened was theft. When someone returns something to you all smashed up you need to do something,” he said while working on the new sculpture in his studio off Vancouver’s Main Street.
“The idea of incorporating the shards in the new statue was a message: If you try to shut up an artist, we’re just going to do a better job.”
Named Margaux and the Monarch, after the president’s standard poodle, the new statue is less of a “caricature and more of portrait crossed with a ventriloquist’s dummy,” Mr. Rammell said.
After 24 years teaching art at the university, Mr. Rammell says finishing the sculpture by September is his priority.
He’s been approached by several galleries in Vancouver to display the statue, but he doesn’t know where he will exhibit it yet. He knows one place it won’t go: The statue has been banned from Capilano’s North Vancouver campus.
The original six-foot sculpture was seized from campus on the evening of May 7 by order of Jane Shackell, the chair of the university’s board.
Ms. Shackell defended the seizure, saying the sculpture amounted to “workplace harassment” and was intended “to belittle and humiliate the president.” She said the university had to dismantle the statue in order to move it.
Mr. Rammell maintains the sculpture of the president wasn’t harassment, but political satire at a moment of desperation.
For more than a year, Ms. Bulcroft had been unresponsive to a letter-writing campaign, and the university had previously used campus security to seize protest banners made by faculty.
Ms. Shackell’s term as chair ended on the last day of July, the same day Mr. Rammell says the university closed the studio arts, textiles and interactive design programs.
Because Mr. Rammel’s complaint was resolved through a grievance procedure, “the university considers this matter closed,” a university spokeswoman wrote in a statement.
A week before the sculpture was seized, a B.C. Supreme Court judge sided with an argument from the university’s faculty association that the programs were cut without proper consultation.
In May, the Canadian Association of University Teachers started an inquiry into whether Mr. Rammell’s academic freedom was violated when his art was seized from his workplace. While no deadline has been set for when a group of university professors will report their findings, the worse punishment they can levy would be a censure of the university – a recommendation that teachers avoid working at the institution.