Recently, a number of people asked me to comment on Ryan Robson’s “Lady-Like” exhibit and what happened in those subsequent weeks. I’ve taken some time to think about the events and the subject and for what it is worth, here are my thoughts.
If you aren’t familiar with it, the story is documented here:
and here on CBC is the interview with Ryan about the show (7 minutes long):
From the infotel.ca link:
“After receiving a number of concerns, we thought the time frame for this exhibit maybe should be left at two weeks. During that time almost all of our college community would have had time to experience the art,” Lister says.
So here are the facts as I see them:
- Ryan Robson is a local Vernon artist.
- Gallery Vertigo, an artist run gallery, has an agreement with the Kalamalka Okanagan College satellite campus in Vernon to have artworks on display for one month, so by my math, that is four weeks.
- There was no financial cost to display the art.
- Robson creates sincere and genuine works with the intention of helping herself, and helping others by opening a dialogue on a very distressing and confrontational subject.
- The artworks are on display for a very, very short period of time (days?) before complaints come in to the Okanagan College administrators.
- The artworks are no longer able to be up for the agreed amount time with the administrator citing the “complaints”.
Based on the actions of the administrators of Kalamalka – Okanagan College, my take is the following:
- The Okanagan College failed in its role as a centre for expanded learning.
- They don’t understand the value of art as a vehicle for education and understanding, compassion and empathy.
- They see art as “conditional” rather than a “necessary”.
- They should have stood up to the complainers and stood up for the art.
- I believe that as long as the art is landscapes and flowers and fairies or objective abstracts then art is welcome on their walls.
- Ryan Robson is a local artist.
- Local artists are not taken seriously or their genuine work is seen as valid.
- If this was an outside exhibit that they had to pay to display then the artworks would have been up for the agreed amount of time.
The College had an opportunity to expand consciousness and understanding of such a highly charged area of human life, and I am certain sexual molestation happens to more children and people than we know. I am sure they could have taken advantage of this artist’s sharing by having her come and speak to the psychology classes, or other subjects they teach. Speaking from the experience of someone who is coming to terms with my own identity and exploring the same in my work, the actions of the College are reprehensible considering that this area purports itself to be so culturally aware.
Instead, they shut her down and gave the message “we don’t want to see that”, or “we don’t care about what you went through, it isn’t valid art”. Regardless of what was said, actions speak louder than words, and that was the message, very clear to all. And again, I think it is because she was a local artist. If this was an artist from Toronto, or Vancouver, or if they had to pay for the exhibit, then this outcome would be very different.
Too bad the College succumbed to squeaky wheels and whiners instead of telling them to stuff it. They could have made themselves the example of strength and leadership by standing up for the principle and needs of art.
But they didn’t.