The quarter-of-a-buck stops here


The picture to the left is a decorative manhole cover designed by Quebec City-based artist Martin Bureau. It’s basically what happens when you morph both sides of a quarter: the Queen, only with antlers instead of a crown.

Of course, Quebec being Quebec and the Queen being the Queen, the piece is unapologetically political: The inscription reads, “Kwebec, 1759-2009, Quart de piasse,” and the antlers represent Lizzy’s prize for colonizing the province.

It was originally set to be installed in the capitale nationale alongside others to mark Quebec City’s 400th anniversary.

But then it was banned.

[Photo by Ivan Binet, Canwest News Service]

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The quarter-of-a-buck stops here

  1. Uh, no, it was not *banned*. Was the artist thrown in jail? Did the artist have a permit-to-practice-art revoked? Maybe the artist is in a reeducation camp? Or perhaps he’s been hauled before a tribunal somewhere? Maybe his loved ones have been tortured for this artist’s behaviour? Have all images of this work been destroyed? Has the work itself been destroyed? Has a law been passed prohibiting any description, depiction or image of the work?
    The organizers commissioned all sorts of art work, and they declined this one. Big whoop. Banned? Get a dictionary, wouldja?

  2. Are we capable of making anything that’s not a political statement? If I want that, should I just move?

  3. @madeyoulook:

    From the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition:

    ban: (1) forbid, prohibit, esp. formally (2) *a tacit prohibition by public opinion*

  4. OK, now that you have the dictionary opened, can you try to bend either definition to the circumstances here? No, you cannot.
    Forbid, prohibit? Er, no, the customer returned the item because it was not satisfactory. The artist was not fined, jailed, etc.
    Tacit prohibition by public opinion? Well, the public hue & cry hasn’t made it this far, anyway. My take is that a committee of civic folk (maybe volunteer, maybe not, probably no more than 8-10 people) got a good laugh at the sight, then felt somewhat uncomfortable at the whole political connotations, then decided they wouldn’t accept that one submission.
    Let’s try this another way. If there is ONE manhole cover (out of all the ones commissioned for la 400e) that has won the greatest public recognition, which one would that be? I close my eyes, and I see Her Majesty who missed out on rutting season. I honestly don’t see any other in my mind, because no media outlet I regularly scan has bothered to show me any of the other works. Some ban — it’s the only one most Canadians have seen!
    Your organization is, as we live and breathe, in a REAL freedom-of-speech battle against the state and a few pipsqueaks who discovered they could commandeer a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy in their evil attempt to stifle free speech. And I (and, thankfully, many others) are cheering you on in this contest, believe me. But let us not belittle the true horrors of trampling on freedom of speech by using the term where it does not belong.

  5. True, this is really not a banning. But it does behoove governments to do everthing they can do encourage debate and thought rather than suppress it, and they have not in this case. Then again, there are some serious political ramifications at play here.

  6. I’m all for freedom of expression, particularly when it comes to manhole covers and Canadian politics.

    At this very moment, I am designing a manhole cover for Quebec City with a picture of the proposed Robert Borden Conscription Museum with the inscription “For King and Country, Especially When It Comes To Saving France”.

  7. Todd, do you have any evidence that ANY level of government has attempted to “suppress debate” as you charge?
    Any Canadian can forge a manhole cover showing HM Elizabeth II picking her nose, or growing antlers, or mudwrestling the Dalai Lama. And any customer is free to buy it or to decline it. Any Canadian can post an image of the *cough* banned artwork on a Canadian website for Canadians to see, and for them to offer commentary and debate.
    The hyperbole about censorship and suppressing debate is, frankly, bizarre. I can only imagine how demeaning such a choice of words would be to the Cuban political dissident who has been jailed for decades because he is too stuborn to abandon his love of freedom, or the Burmese politician under house arrest for how-many-years-now, or any outspoken-and-sane citizen of Zimbabwe, or the Quebecker-living-in-New-Hampshire whose best-seller is soon to be a hate crime, or the uppity Calgarian who dares to question why the laughable taxpayer-supported paper-pushing keystone kops are harrassing him for publishing a few cartoons in a news article.
    When the state (or an angry mob) comes after you for saying something and/or forcibly removes / hides / forbids dissemination of your ideas, THAT’s banning, censorship, suppressing debate. When a municipal anniversary organizing committee says “no, thank you, you can keep that,” and a public display of the work is unleashed and a conversation about it among interested parties ensues, that is the very essence of a free and democratic society.
    A little perspective, please.

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