By Kathryn Helmore
VANCOUVER – A car soaked in gasoline and set alight is the stage for a shirtless man, his fists raised to the sky. Surrounded by burning scraps of paper, plastic, and fabric, he is located outside the Canada Post office in downtown Vancouver.
The startling photograph by Arlen Redekop captures a dark moment in Vancouver’s sporting history: the 2011 Stanley Cup riots. The riots shattered a typecast often attributed to Vancouver. A typecast that portrays our mountainous ocean city as a peaceful, granola-munching haven.
City on Edge, an exhibition running at the Museum of Vancouver, explores Vancouver’s rich history of civil unrest and reformation, showcasing a large variety of photographs from those 2011 riots and last year’s Kinder Morgan protests to the 1907 anti-Asian race riot.
“The exhibition asks a fundamental question: why do people take to the streets?” says Viviane Gosselin, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at Museum of Vancouver. “It also shows the impact of activism in our daily lives through showing the impact on policy, culture, and society.”
Utilizing 650 photographs from both public and private archives, City on Edge dives into four forms of activism: Indigenous, labour dispute, government policy, and social justice. However, the presentation isn’t simply photojournalism.
“Yes, this is photojournalism however, it’s also very aesthetic,” Gosselin explains. “The photographs themselves are stunning. A sound designer, Alex Grindenall, has also put together an amazing sound piece. It creates the impression of being surrounded by people protesting. We are recreating a protest so people can understand and remember what that is.”
The exhibition speaks to the transformation of Vancouver, Canada, and western society. Photographs of women marching for the right to vote is a reminder that 101 years ago, half of Western Canadian citizens could not elect their own government. And while City on Edge focuses on struggle, it also chronicles positive change.
“The photographs are large scale because these events are bigger than life,” says Gosselin. “People don’t remember what they had for breakfast but they will remember what protest they attended. After all, they are big, transformative moments in history.”
City on Edge: A Century of Vancouver Activism runs until February 18, 2018 at the Museum of Vancouver.Art, City on Edge, History, Museum of Vancouver, photography