Volume 95, Issue 16

Thursday, September 27, 2001
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Western tested World Trade Center

Homers come home for Homecoming

Rez chaos: Outcasts still waiting for rooms

'Forgotten purple' find home with USC

Art gallery reverses decision on Arab art

Five million reasons to cure ALS

Cigarette companies choke on label dispute

Art gallery reverses decision on Arab art

By Jessica Leeder
Gazette Staff

All it took was a dirty look from Prime Minister Jean Chretien to get the federally-funded National Museum of Civilization back on track.

After announcing Tuesday that an Arab-Canadian art exhibit, "The Lands Within Me," would be postponed indefinitely in light of the events in the United States, Pierre Pontbrian, the museum's VP-public affairs made a second announcement yesterday stating the exhibit will now be opened sometime before March of 2002.

"The Prime Minister commented [yesterday] in the House of Commons that he disagreed with our decision to postpone the exhibit," Pontbrian said, adding the museum's decision to postpone the show was not in any way influenced by the federal government, despite the fact it is 80 per cent funded by government.

"We were always committed to do the exhibit and we want to inform all interested parties that the exhibit will indeed be put on," Pontbrian said. "We never had any intention of cancelling it completely."

The announcement induced a huge sigh of relief from many people working in and affiliated with the artistic community.

"People are very adamant about the importance of cultural expression – they understand the role of culture, communication and peace and if you look at what has happened here in that framework, it seems incredibly short-sighted for one of our national museums to be showing this kind of nervousness and not to be standing up for free expression," said Megan Williams, national director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

"I am amazed they let their nervousness show in public – to equivocate publicly is a very big mistake."

Alfredo Caxaj, artistic director for Sunset, a London-based organization whose mandate is to show the works of people who have backgrounds in different cultures, was sympathetic to the artists who were nearly stifled.

"There are not many venues in Canada for artists that come from other cultures to display their work; unfortunately, sometimes they have to break so many barriers to get into mainstream galleries to expose their work," he said.

Caxaj added he thought a move like postponing – or cancelling – a cultural exhibit of any kind under such tense circumstances is a way of telling the artists their work is unimportant and inappropriate.

Michael Lynk, assistant professor in the faculty of law at Western said that if the exhibit was to be permanently cancelled, the artists may have had the option of filing a complaint under the federal Human Rights Act or even the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Even though this is not yet the case, Lynk stressed the importance of the museum continuing with the exhibit.

"If anything, it is more important than ever to put this kind of exhibition on. If not, I think they're giving in to stereotyping and increasing the isolation Arab-Canadians and Muslims are feeling," he said.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001