UBC Okanagan opens display area for controversial art work

Public display of art may make some uncomfortable, but may also open debate

Art, controversial or not, deserves to be displayed.

That’s the rationale behind UBC Okanagan’s new ‘StART the Conversation’—a space dedicated to artwork from UBC’s Public Art Collection that some may find provocative. But others, says UBC art Curator Susan Belton, may see it as an opportunity for discussion.

“It is important to the university to have a public art collection,” says Belton. “It enriches our campus visually and enlivens the academic experience. It makes our institution a unique place, broadening cultural horizons and deepening historical understanding.”


UBC Okanagan students Sonya Mollema and Chelsey O’Callaghan discuss the Pageant display by Kelowna-based artist Kassandra Davis, recently installed. A wall, outside the university’s book store, has been dedicated for art which may be deemed controversial. Feedback is encouraged at www.pac.ok.ubc.ca.

The StART the Conversation wall, located near the bookstore in the administration building, invites people to comment on or provide feedback about the artwork. Every few months, the artwork will be rotated with another piece, with the goal of opening public dialogue about art and social issues.

“Good works of art in our collection should be seen,” says Belton. “We don’t want to hide them because they may make some people uncomfortable. We have dedicated one wall, in a highly public place, for art which may be called controversial. Our goal is to encourage commentary and debate.”

Currently, Kassandra Davis’ Pageant—a number of digitally enhanced photos portraying young girls as beauty queen contestants—is on display. Belton says she has heard from people who find the images disturbing and others who think it demonstrates extreme narcissistic behaviour by some parents to bring fame to their children.

Belton says as the works change and become even more controversial, she’s sure people will become engaged in the conversation. She cautions that there will be some nudity.

“In the spirit of open, respectful, and inclusive discussion, we invite people to comment on these works of art and provide suggestions for future installations,” says Belton.

StART the Conversation wall is located on the second floor of UBC Okanagan’s administration building. People can comment on UBC’s Public Art Collection at: www.pac.ok.ubc.ca