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Controversial art exhibit stripped from Okanagan College

January 17, 2014 - 1:46 PM


VERNON - A controversial art show at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus has been shut down because of complaints it was “too disturbing.”

The series ‘Lady-like’ by local artist Ryan Robson, 29, depicts women in bondage, pain and sexual suffering—images that created plenty of controversy at the college campus.

“Some people thought the art was amazing right down the spectrum to people being quite distressed by the art," Okanagan College dean Jane Lister says. "I think (provocative art) is always a good thing for institutes of higher learning. We are very appreciative of the art and the willingness for (artists) to display their work."

Of course an artist's intent is to provoke thought and discussion. That's the aim of the educational institution as well—unless it draws complaints.

“After receiving a number of concerns, we thought the time frame for this exhibit maybe should be left at two weeks. During that time almost all of our college community would have had time to experience the art,” Lister says.

The series is extremely personal to Robson because it illustrates painful memories of sexual abuse and molestation from her childhood. She agrees the paintings are disturbing. 

“This is my translation of things that have happened in my life and absolutely I was disturbed when I was six and being molested," she says.

Robson works with teenagers undergoing their own issues at home or with addiction or sexual abuse and hopes that sharing her story through art will open conversation. The question is whether there’s a place for it on campus.

Okanagan College partners with Vernon's Gallery Vertigo to feature numerous artists in a hallway outside the school’s lecture hall. Never, in Lister’s knowledge, has a show fueled such controversy. Lady-like was scheduled to run the month but is being removed today. The college offered to stick the exhibit in a room for the remainder of the time, so no one is 'forced' to see it when walking by.

It goes directly to why Robson created it. She doesn’t want it stuck in a room like the stigma and hushed nature of the crimes themselves; she wants her paintings and the conversation they create out in the open. The paintings are also not overly graphic in nudity or sex—just the feeling the artist sought to portray.

“I’m not going to move it into a smaller space, because I think that’s part of the problem—let’s not acknowledge it, let’s put it somewhere we don’t have to acknowledge it. This is a topic that needs to be addressed,” Robson says. “It feels like: keep it to yourself.”

Not everyone at the college agrees with the exhibit's removal. Arthur Boehm, a computer science prof with an office near the gallery, thinks the paintings spark an important conversation, if you can look beyond the surface.

“Art should mean something, or communicate a value. This doesn’t look so at the outset, but once you probe a little bit, you start to see that it really does communicate an important idea,” Boehm says.

Notes left in a comment box reveal mixed reviews. Many described the art as powerful. Others said it brought up a lot of emotions. Some said art like this doesn’t belong at the college.

When Robson was a child, no one talked about sexual abuse. It’s still largely in the shadows, but she feels there’s a better way.

“I think people breathe in life, and they breathe it out. Whatever you’ve breathed in, it has to come out of you some way or another,” Robson says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

You can see more images from the series here. 

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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