MPP objects to piece in Queen’s Park exhibit
by Elizabeth Bate
MPP Laurie Scott is concerned about the type of images a public gallery in Toronto has chosen to display.
The MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock and PC women’s issues critic released a statement against a piece by artist Rosalie H. Maheux displayed at the John B. Aird gallery in Macdonald Block, one of a series of buildings in the Queen’s Park area that houses government and ministry offices.
“After watching a news report on CityNews last night, the PC Caucus is disappointed to see an art gallery, located inside a publicly owned government building, has chosen to display graphic and sexually explicit images of women,”said Scott in a July 16 release.
Although the gallery is in Macdonald Block, it is a not-for-profit gallery not associated with any government ministry.
The image Maheux, a Quebec native who studied art at the University of Toronto, chose to show and sell at the 30 Under 30 exhibition is from a series she calls Sacred Circles. The series shows mandalas and sacred circles made up of a mosaic of images of explicit material.
When viewed from a distance, the piece in question, a three-foot square canvas titled Sacred Circles VI, appears to be an image of a mandala with a pattern of pinkish-hued small circles repeated in increasingly larger circles. When viewed up close the work shows those circles are made up of tiny pictures of women in sexually compromising positions.
In a statement on her website the artist says she fears people have reacted to a work they haven’t seen, and the works in the series are meant to look at the oppositions between the sacred and the profane, creating a clash between to the two types of images and a dialogue between attraction and repulsion.
“The irony in my work is that it becomes more challenging as you approach it, as its elements draw our attention to our stake in the politics of looking, voyeurism, sexual degradation, sexism, sexuality, and so on,” Maheux said in a written statement.
Maheux’s piece is just one of 35 works from 30 different artists chosen for the exhibition by curator Gary Michael Dault. In a gallery release, Dault said he chose the work because of “its inventive, thoughtful, and searching nature.”
In her statement, Scott said she felt the graphic nature of the work was inappropriate for a gallery in a government building, fearing it objectified women.
“Regardless of the aims or intent of the artist, Ontarians expect their government to lead by example in combating the sexual objectification of women. The fact that a publicly housed gallery has been allowed to not only display but to sell images of this nature is very worrisome,” said Scott.
Maheux’s statement said the objectification of women and value society places on female attractiveness was part of what led her to create the contentious image.
“Given these standards, as a woman artist, it only makes sense that I would take the images of women that are out there, including the sexualized and the pornographic, reconfigure them on my own terms, and offer them back as something transformed,” she wrote.
The gallery’s written statement said it strives to promote a challenging dialogue and it will not censor the work, but it has placed a sign with a mature content warning in the gallery. The warning sign was in place for the remainder of the exhibit, which closed July 24.
Attempts were made to reach Scott, Maheux, and the gallery, however, these attempts were not successful. Maheux wrote that is she is only giving interviews “to media that promotes an open minded and positive view of contemporary art,” while the gallery’s phone was disconnected at press time.
Requests to interview Scott were also declined.
Elizabeth Bate is a reporter/photographer with the Haliburton Echo and Minden Times. You can follow her on Twitter@ElizabethBate.