One of the goals of public art is to spur contemplation and conversation – and a sculpture depicting eight red, crouching Buddhist monks, installed recently in White Rock’s Miramar Plaza, is doing just that.
Before coming to White Rock, the Bosa Properties and Vancouver Biennale installation, The Meeting – by Chinese artist Wang Shugang – was commissioned for the 2007 G8 Summit in Germany.
“Open to various interpretations, one wonders if they are in deep diplomatic negotiations, quietly meditating or simply enjoying a conversation amongst friends,” Bosa Properties stated in a news release about the artwork.
A level of curiosity, and subsequent conversation and debate, is part of the intent of the piece, said Vancouver Biennale founder and artistic director, Barrie Mowatt.
For at least two residents, however, the sculpture serves as a reminder of injustice.
Edie Williams and Thomas Honeymoon both wrote to Peace Arch News, expressing disappointment that a piece of art created by a Chinese artist is being displayed in the community, while the government of China continues to hold two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – in prison, as it has done for more than two years.
“I have to ask myself – is that a good thing to put up with two Canadians in jail over there?” wrote Williams.
“To me it is a slap in the face to Canadians and a permanent reminder of the injustice of the Chinese Communist government,” Honeyman wrote.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau has called the detention of the two Michaels “arbitrary” and accused China of a lack of transparency. The two men were arrested just days after police in Vancouver arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department.
Told of concerns raised regarding the dentention of the two Michaels, Mowatt said he’s glad that people are engaged.
“That’s one of the great objectives, I guess, of any arts or cultural installation is to connect with people and engage with people,” Mowatt said.
He said it’s unfortunate that some people tend to start with a negative mindset when approaching public art.
“The opportunity for them is that they can maybe open their minds to be receptive of the broader perspective of what the art is all about. Art is never about one particular perspective and one particular event,” Mowatt said.
He said the sculpture is a legacy piece and Bosa Properties should be congratulated and celebrated for going beyond a developer’s requirement for public art.
“They made this decision as a means to activate and bring people into the area,” he said.
“Once an artist creates something, no matter what the artist’s concept was, once it leaves the artist’s hands, its interpretation becomes that of whoever sees it or participates with it. It is no longer the artist’s.”
According to description on the Vancouver Biennale website, the sculptures are painted “Chinese Red,” the colour associated with the Chinese government and communism.
“The colour has multiple cultural meanings in China, historically representing happiness, but during the Cultural Revolution it symbolized terror. Today red is the colour of the faded lettering praising Mao on the ceilings of the factories, coats of the Buddhist monks and the colour of wedding decorations,” Shugang explained in a description of the piece.
The art made its North American debut as part of the 2009-2011 Vancouver Biennale exhibition. From 2014-2016, the The Meeting was relocated to Rey Sargent Park in North Vancouver.
In 2017, The Meeting was loaned to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for the 375th anniversary of Montreal, the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and the 150th anniversary of Canada.
“There’s a lot of history there,” said Mowatt. “I would encourage people to go out and enjoy it and be playful with it.”
– with files from the Canadian Press