Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The University of British Columbia was in the news twice last week, first for a proposed hospice, second for a proposed exhibition at the campus morgue, also known as the Museum of Anthropology.

Citing cultural insensitivity, some ethnic Chinese residents of a condo tower beside the proposed hospice site claimed that a surfeit of ghosts would impinge upon their quality of life and lower property values. The hospice, slated to open in February, is now on hold.

Over at the Museum of Anthropology, an exhibition of Pamela Masik's paintings of police photographs of missing women from the downtown eastside (some of whom have had their DNA show up on Robert Pickton’s pig farm), was cancelled after museum director Anthony Shelton came to the conclusion that the exhibition “wasn’t going to work.”

In a statement delivered to the media, Dr. Shelton wrote: “There are too many unresolved issues surrounding it, and serious concerns have been raised by some individuals and groups that by showing the paintings, we might cause further distress to the families and friends of the missing and murdered women, as well as to others in the communities most affected by the issues we sought to address.” A teach-in has been scheduled in its place.

Are these two incidents related? Certainly both have ethno-cultural issues at their centre, though the MOA exhibition is, at least at the headline level, less apparent. Reading deeper one discovers that many of the 69 women in Masik's "The Forgotten" project are of First Nations descent. A visit to the MOA will tell you that the museum's display focus is Northwest Coast First Nations art and artefact. The question I want to know is, Had the ethnic distribution of the missing women been equal to that of the country, would this project have been considered in the first place?

It was Salish artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun who first referred to the MOA as a morgue.

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