British comedian’s complaints lead to removal of downtown Calgary art

City of Calgary lawyers looking into controversial SNAPSHOTS art issue
WATCH: The City of Calgary’s law department is reviewing the contract between the city and artist Derek Besant who created the SNAPSHOTS project. Gary Bobrovitz has more

The City of Calgary will be removing a contentious art installation on the 4 Street S.W. underpass after several U.K.-based comedians raised red flags about the images featured in the piece.

The art piece, titled SNAPSHOTS, features Polaroid-style, blurred photos of peoples’ faces with various phrases printed over them.

British comedian Bisha K Ali took to Twitter on Monday afternoon after a friend of hers, who is from Vancouver, passed the underpass and recognized one of the images to be of her.

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

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

The image, Ali said, was a flipped and blurred version of a press photo taken several years ago by fellow comedian and photographer Jayde Adam. She went on to tag several other U.K.-based comedians whose images also appeared to be featured in the installation.

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On Monday night, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he’d been made aware of the complaints and asked city administration to investigate.

By Tuesday, the decision had been made to take the artwork down.

“As part of the city’s investigation, we have been in contact with the artist. The artist has said that we should remove the installation,” the city said in a statement.

“We will be doing this and are considering our next steps.”

Kurt Hanson, general manager with the city’s community services department, said the city is also looking into the contractual agreement between the city and Calgary-based artist Derek Michael Besant.

The piece, installed in 2015, was commissioned for $20,000 to be featured as part of the city’s many public art pieces.

“We’re assessing his responsibilities with respect to what needed to be undertaken with regard to the concerns that are presented,” Hanson said.

READ MORE: Calgary city council suspends public arts policy

When asked if the city would look to get the $20,000 back, Hanson said the law department is “looking into what our remedies are for the situation.”

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“If there’s been something that’s been not done contractually, appropriately, the city has remedies to follow up to what that might be.”

Hanson said there are a number of possibilities that are being considered by the law department.

WATCH: Linda Olsen talks to University of Calgary art instructor Dick Averns and Newstalk 770’s Rob Breakenridge about how the city handles its public art policy as another display draws controversy.

A closer look at public art in Calgary and the sometimes negative reaction to it
A closer look at public art in Calgary and the sometimes negative reaction to it

Nenshi said Tuesday he didn’t think this particular installation reflected on the public art program itself, because the selection committee has to “trust the people with whom we contract.”

“Certainly there is a contract talking about intellectual property, and so on, that every artist signs,” Nenshi said.

“So while it might be fun to pile this on to the sins of the public art program, I think that this particular one is probably… the blame belongs somewhere else.”

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When asked where that blame belongs, Nenshi would only say there is an investigation underway that should be able to answer that question at a later date.

Second comedian comes forward

A second U.K.-based comedian told Global News on Tuesday that a photo of her was also featured in the art project. She also drew a line between the installation and the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Sofie Hagen said during the festival, posters of her face and several of the comedians seen in the art piece were on display throughout Edinburg, and that it’s been said Besant was in attendance.

Another art installation of Besant’s – which also featured blurred images of faces with words printed over them – was unveiled in the Scotland city just ahead of the festival, according to The Globe and Mail.

“I don’t know what to think,” Hagen said via Skype from London.

“I am extremely curious to find out what on Earth has happened and why the artist did this and what he wanted to get out of it and why he didn’t ask for permission. It feels like there’s so much more to unravel in this.”

Hagen echoed Ali’s Monday comments that the photographers who took the original images should be credited for their work.

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Global News’ requests for comment from Besant were not answered.