It was an incredibly poor decision and even worse timing. Canada had just celebrated its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a newly instated national holiday focussing on the struggles Indigenous populations have faced in Canada and non-Indigenous citizens’ efforts to become aware and better allies. But in Calgary, Alberta, just after the day had passed, an iconic mural by Indigenous artist Kalum Teke Dan has been bricked up by a construction project.
Hailing from southern Alberta, Kalum Teke Dan has been an active artist in Alberta for over two decades. Specializing in portraiture and murals, Dan has a deep connection to his roots of the Blood Tribe, which can be seen represented in the subjects of his works. His palettes and line work are both very striking, their precision and vibrance bringing to mind the pop-art framing of Lichtenstein but brimming with Dan’s unique cultural identity.
The piece in question is Sunset Song, depicting an Indigenous man in full regalia in mid-song before a flowing landscape of mountains, water, and the setting sun. Apparently the artist’s favourite piece, it’s no wonder the unpleasant news this past week hit so hard. Sunset Song was half-covered with grey bricks this past week by a new development project, without any consultation with the artist or the owner of the adjacent building that houses the mural.
While there isn’t anything legally forbidding a building project from covering adjacent walls and any art displayed on them, pictures seem to imply that they chose to wall up the mural before anything else; this makes it hard to seem like it isn’t a targeted choice. But for the time being, there is a stop-work notice on the project as the city investigates the situation.
Beltline Urban Murals Project, who originally commissioned the piece, has talked to Kalum Teke Dan about recreating Sunset Song next year. But it is understandably disheartening to see one’s work, and one’s culture, so mistreated. While murals may have inherent temperance to them, they create a lasting impact on the communities that pass by them every day—and so too does the endless march of construction that washes these artworks away.