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Museum of Anthropology Cancels The Forgotten Project

The British Columbia Museum of Anthropology has canceled ‘The Forgotten Project’.

MOA’s intention was to open doors for discussion about difficult issues that have a continuing and powerful resonance in Vancouver. Our decision to host the show, however, was predicated on further developing productive relationships with local community groups, First Nations, and academics, with whom we hoped to develop useful programming (such as talks, panel discussions, film screenings, other art exhibitions, performances, etc) through which the larger issues raised by the exhibition could be explored.

Despite concerted efforts by staff and others in the past few months, it has become clear that the kind of productive dialogue we sought is unlikely to result from continuing with the exhibition: there are too many unresolved issues surrounding it, and serious concerns have been raised by some individuals and groups that by showing the paintings, we might cause further distress to the families and friends of the missing and murdered women, as well as to others in the communities most affected by the issues we sought to address.

After intensive consultation with university and community representatives, I came to the conclusion that given the level of concern, we could not achieve our original goals for the exhibition. For that reason, I made the very difficult decision to cancel it.

Pamela Masik writes: “I respect MOA Director Anthony Shelton’s decision to cancel ‘The Forgotten’ exhibition. However, it saddens me as I see this as society’s continuing refusal to acknowledge what happened to these women. I saw my role as an artist to bear witness to the 69 women who were marginalized, went missing and many, ultimately murdered, not by the hands of a serial killer but by our society viewing these women as inconsequential. How is not showing these paintings going to help us confront the real issues of these marginalized women who are still going missing to this day all across Canada?”

MOA is committed to continuing exploring difficult issues and developing exhibits and programs on contemporary topics, but for now we need to step back and try to better understand the dynamics between artists, community interests, and public exhibitions. To keep the conversation going, we are hoping to organize a public workshop in the coming months, to discuss the issues raised by the exhibition, and to begin a debate on how public institutions can tackle controversial issues through exhibits and programs in sensitive and appropriate ways. We hope to have involvement from all the individuals and organizations with which we have made connections over the past several months, and who have given generously of their time to help us begin to understand the enormous complexity of the project we originally undertook. We recognize the need for open and honest debate about the issues raised – not only by the exhibit, but by the response it provoked – and look forward to fresh opportunities to address them in the new year.

Anthony Shelton, Director, MOA

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