The unveiling of a sculpture at Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant on Friday afternoon sparked a political discussion between the artist that created it and a local dignitary.
The sculpture, Continuous Portrait of Stephen Harper, was created by Cambridge artist Jane Hook.
“Stephen Harper is our current prime minister, and, among other things, he is known for his general lack of support for the arts, as well as his top-down style of leadership,” Hook said. “I started thinking about how I struggle with the choices he’s making in running the government.
“I decided to make a portrait of Harper out of lead, as a reference to poison and heaviness. It’s industrial-looking, because he’s very much into economics at the expense of the environment. Lead is a toxic material and (the sculpture) is wrapped in an industrial powder coating.”
The installation – made of 230 pounds of solid lead – marks the latest addition to the gallery’s outdoor sculpture garden.
Hook said she was inspired to create the sculpture after seeing Italian futurist artist Renato Giuseppe Bertelli’s 1933 piece, Continuous Profile of Mussolini, which she saw on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Brant MP Phil McColeman disagreed with Hook’s stance, saying the Conservative government has committed plenty of financial support to the arts.
“Art stimulates conversation and debate,” McColeman said. “While other governments were slashing their support for culture, our government is one of very few governments in the G8 that did not cut, did not maintain, but increased funding for the arts during the recession.
“Our government is showing clear leadership in supporting arts and culture. It is absolutely essential to keeping our economy on track. The arts and artists not only enrich our lives, but also express and strengthen Canadian identity, and for that, we value and support them.”
McColeman said since 2006, the federal government has invested significantly in the Canada Council for the Arts, bringing federal funding for the organization to its highest level in history.
Stan Gorecki, chair of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant board, said the sculpture is an exciting addition to the gallery’s collection.
“The idea of public art in public spaces is an important one,” Gorecki said. “We have a limited number of walls inside the gallery, but we have 16 acres outside for art.”