Photo Credit: Colin Smith

This photograph by Colin Smith documents an activist art action in front of the legislative buildings in Victoria, BC. It has artistic merit in its own right. In the words of Angela Bone, “Colin Smith is an amazing photographer and committed to helping document so many important issues.”

There are those who regard the marking of the Victoriana monument and the photograph that documents the action as being without merit — as mere vandalism and its document. Yet the paint action is an example of a valid and much warranted ephemeral art activism, nowhere near as egregious as the permanent and lasting harm perpetrated against Indigenous individuals, children and communities.

Joanne Winstanley explains, “the paint used was water-soluble — which is why it spread so wide in the rain — so as to create a ‘moment’ of protest (very effective visual moment too) rather than permanently bloody the statue.”

Basically, the action represents a protest against British Crown Colony genocide against Indigenous Canadians, in Residential Schools and throughout the sovereign First Nations and territories. And, as such, it doesn’t hold a candle to the very real vandalism perpetrated against lands and persons by the British Crown. Moreover, given resistance on the parts of both Church and government around even acknowledging atrocities perpetrated against Indigenous Canadian men, women, children and the sacred Land, it nearly always requires graphic protest action to even get their attention. Case in point:

(Councillor Geoff Young defends comments about residential schools, burials, CAPITALDAILY.CA)

When I think of the monument and the activist art involved here, and grapple with each as symbols, I see that the Victoriana monument memorializes imperialistic colonial power and the idea of the capitol city of Victoria and the province itself as a Hudson’s Bay Crown Corporation outpost and stakeholder (the Idle No More Movement having been launched by Canadian Indigenous activists in front of the Hudson’s Bay main headquarters in London, UK) — an idea that is wholly noxious and offensive — not just to the sovereign long-term, as in thousands of years-long, actual residents of so-called ‘Victoria,’ but to anyone who reverences and respects the Land itself as a conscious, sovereign entity. Green consciousness rejects all such false claims to Crown and corporate dominion, which is to say ‘domination,’ degradation and ‘ownership’ of the land.

On the other hand, when I think of the water-soluble red paint application as ephemeral art or art activism — as symbol, in other words — I see the memorialization of the Indigenous blood spilled for the sake of this corporate/government takeover, this settler mentality— the 215 children who lost their lives and were buried without ceremony or grave markers at the Kamloops Residential School representing the merest tip of the iceberg in terms of disclosures and mass grave discoveries yet to come, the Indigenous women’s lives lost on the infamous Trail of Tears, the thousands of lives destroyed by the RCMP in keeping with its stated founding mandate of suppressing First Nations and their claim to Human Rights and sovereignty over their own cultures, lands, resources, families and lives, defending and protecting false, White, government and corporate claims to their territories. There is no contest in terms of which is more important!

It’s not as if the Victoriana monument represents deathless art — it is a very standardized Victorian (as in the age, not the falsely named colonial locale) piece of Eurocentric, Neo-classical, academic, canonistic art displacing the First Nations art, traditions and culture indigenous to this place. It is meant to dominate and oppress. Simply.

The hurling of water-soluble red paint, on the other hand, is a living, ephemeral work of art, the symbolic nature of which is living, breathing grief, inconsolable loss and their commemoration. Though as ephemeral as the thousands of lives snuffed out, it is a monument in its own right.

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.