Calgary art exhibit inspired by artist’s experience in violent altercation

WATCH: It's an example of life imitating art. An art exhibit is intended to trigger conversations about how to react when you witness a crime. As Jill Croteau reports, it's inspired from personal experience.

A thought-provoking art installation in Calgary is triggering conversations about how to react when you’re a witness to a crime. It was created from a personal experience by artist Humboldt Magnussen.

“It puts you in a vulnerable spot,” he said.

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Less than five months, ago he was outside a gay bar in Saskatchewan and says he witnessed a woman being dragged across the sidewalk by a security guard. He didn’t hesitate to intervene, but in the chaos, he too was assaulted.

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“I got involved in the aftermath and I was punched and when I had to go to police I realized how much evidence and how many witnesses and bystanders were involved.

“This was the fuel for this work of art.”

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Magnussen created three masks for his exhibit called Witness. Each one characterizes the different roles in a violent altercation. He portrayed the participant, the bystander and the witness.

“Witness” art exhibit
“Witness” art exhibit Jill Croteau

The concept is designed to get people to ask themselves about whether they would make a good witness, react, or would retreat and not get involved.

One witness captured the altercation on a cell phone which is included in the exhibit.

“It does raise questions about humanity and people who were witnessing physical violence, because there wasn’t a lot of people doing anything,” Magnussen said.

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The non-profit gallery, The Untitled Art Society, brought Magnussen’s works to Calgary. Director Natasha Chaykowski said she wanted to display it in a very public space that would be accessible to everyone.

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“I am compelled by the way he’s used materials to unfold this story of trauma that he had,” Chaykowski said. “He used footage from the actual incident that became the galvanizing force to be able to do something about this unfortunate situation.”

Magnussen also hopes this creates a dialogue around creating safer spaces for the LGBTQ community. The exhibit can be viewed at Arts Commons in the Plus-15 until the end of the month.