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U.K. woman says image of her used in Calgary public art display without permission

Mayor launches investigation into City of Calgary public art project
Mon, Nov 27: A London-based comedian claims her photograph is being used without her permission in a City of Calgary commissioned art project. Gary Bobrovitz reports.

A London-based stand-up comedian is speaking out and wants answers after she says a photo of her was used without her or her photographer’s permission in a downtown Calgary art installation.

Bisha K Ali took to Twitter on Monday to voice her concerns about an installation , called SNAPSHOTS, which was commissioned by Calgary-based artist Derek Michael Besant for $20,000 and installed in October 2015. It sits in the 4 Street S.W. underpass and features large Polaroid-like images of slightly blurred faces with various short phrases printed over them.

“I LIVE HERE,” “I HAVE A JOB,” “I WALK TO WORK,” are some of the phrases laid over the photos.

“This appears to be a city funded installation. I know those photographs were taken by photographers who deserve their credit, at minimum,” Ali tweeted.

According to a brief about the installation on the city’s website, the images are meant to portray the lives of those who pass through that underpass each day.

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“The art project attempts to position everyone as a cross-section of the mix of people who depend, one way or another, on this route into and out of the downtown sector, the architecture of passage,” the website reads.

“The portraits are a collective vehicle of equality that celebrates those who pass by one another in daily activity. This could be any city, anywhere.”

LISTEN: UK comedian raises concerns about Calgary public art installation

READ MORE: Calgary city council suspends public arts policy

At least one image, though, is a press photo of comedian Ali taken several years ago by another fellow comedian, Jayde Adams, according to Ali.

“That’s 100 per cent me. That’s my face,” Ali told Global News via Skype from London on Monday night.

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One of several images featured in an art installation in downtown Calgary which a U.K.-based comedian says were used without proper permissions.
One of several images featured in an art installation in downtown Calgary which a U.K.-based comedian says were used without proper permissions. Global News

Ali’s original photo shows her with a furrowed brow, wearing glasses. The image in the art installation appears to show a flipped, blurred version of that photo with the words “I WANT LOVE” over top.

“I’ve never been contacted by the guy who put this up, I’ve never even heard of it. I’ve never heard of this underpass before.”

Ali said an old friend she attended a space camp with as a teen, who is originally from Vancouver, was passing through the underpass on Monday and sent her a message saying her face was part of a Calgary art installation.

After asking for more photos, Ali said she is confident that not only is one of the images of her own face, but at least three more of them are of other fellow comedians who are not from Calgary.

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“They’re all kind of blurry, so it’s hard to make out, but some of them I instantly recognized as colleagues of mine, because I’m a comedian here in the U.K. and I know a bunch of those are press photographs of other comics,” Ali said, adding a few of them agreed they were pretty sure their faces were used.

READ MORE: Calgary city councillor Druh Farrell ‘tired of defending’ public art policy

One of the artists tagged in Ali’s Twitter thread was another U.K.-based comedian, Sofie Hagen, who responded to the tweet with her original press photo, which featured her in a pink T-shirt with a small white horse on her shoulder.

“This is the photo btw. They edited out the horse and put “I OWN NOTHING” over my face.. um, I obviously own a little horse,” she tweeted.

Ali said she did some research and realized the art installation was funded by the city’s public art program. She also said that not only was her photo used without her knowing, but the artists that took the images were not credited.

Ali said she also feels Calgarians were lied to in that from her understanding, the images were intended to represent the people of their city, not people who in some cases have never even visited.

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“I think it’s really unfair what he’s done, because he’s… this is the opposite of what he’s done,” she said.

“When you think about the public funding spent on it and you think about people kind of being cheated out of what he was being asked to do, it’s really unfair.”

When asked about the installation’s credibility on Monday night, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that he’s immediately asked to have investigated.

“Obviously, as soon as I saw that, I flipped it to city administration and said, ‘Investigate, investigate, investigate!’ So we’ll see what comes out of that investigation,” Nenshi said.

He went on to say it’s “time to have a very thoughtful conversation about the goals and the tactics of the public art program.”

READ MORE: Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Treaty 7 chiefs address ‘misconceptions’ about Calgary’s Bowfort Towers

Ali said she would like to see the artists who took the original photographs recognized for their work.

“There has to be credit given to the photographers who took those photographs originally, because photography is their prime trade — they make money off of it, they keep their lights on through it, they eat through it, and it’s really unfair to do that,” she said.

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“You’re taking money from people, you’re taking money for their work.”

“In terms of the plagiarism, on kind of a moral and personal level, it’s really unfair. It sucks to have your work stolen.”

Global News has reached out to Besant for comment.