If Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is this frightened, then we can only assume that the visual artist from Toronto, Franke James, is THAT scary!
As reported most recently in the Toronto Star, the Canadian government – so often now referred to as the “Harper government” – stands accused of trying to block a presentation of James’s art in capitals across Europe. And in a way, who can blame them? The official Canadian position these days is that toxic stuff is good for you (or good for us – and who really cares about you?). Whether it’s “ethical oil” dredged out of the tar sands in one of the most environmentally damaging variations of any oil exploitation, or asbestos, peddled to any impoverished nation still so desperate as to use it, Canada is officially in the poison-for-profit business. When some lippy woman stands up and suggests that this is a bad thing, it makes the government look – well, like shills for dirty industries – and it compromises the chances that those dirty industries have of enjoying even greater profit. No wonder Stephen Harper’s henchpeople refer to James as “that woman!”
The funny part about all this is that Franke James is anything but a conventional rabble rouser. It’s hard to call someone “girlish” these days without courting an anti-feminist image, but Franke James, personally and in her bright, brilliant, quirky and sometimes childlike art, is brimming with the kind of naive optimism that prompts certain 14-year-old females to dot their ‘i’s with little hearts. She’s the kind of person who could ask, with complete sincerity and no hint whatever of sarcasm, why everyone can’t just be nice to one another.
She has asked – pointedly and repeatedly – why the “Harper government” can’t be nice, or at the very least passingly responsible, to the Canadian and global environment. And while Harper’s minions would like to pass this off as a “silly” question, it’s a silly question that they can’t answer. More, it’s a question they plainly fear.
So Canadian embassies across Europe are declining what would be garden-variety support otherwise due to any artist that had attracted enough attention to win a tour across the continent. More insidiously, it appears that they may have been bluntly interfering, making intimidating/compromising approaches to the Nektarina Non-Profit that had tried to mount the James tour and discouraging private-sector funders from underwriting the show.
The scoop on Stephen Harper, even among those who find his politcs abhorent, is that he is an incredibly smart guy. He works hard. He remembers everything he reads. And he has a political instinct that has enabled him to consolidate the top spot in Canadian government – for what may turn out to be four very long years. So, again, if Stephen Harper is afraid of Franke James, she must be doing something powerful – something that the smartest politician thinks he can’t manage if it moves into the public and international realm.
So, the only thing to do is to click on Franke James’s website and entertain yourself with one or several of her fabulous visual essays. Go back and read the story about what happened when she asked another, now famously silly question: Why can’t I dig up my driveway and plant flowers? Then send links of those essays to everyone in your address book.
And if you know someone with a budget, let’s try to round up support for a Franke James tour in Canada and the U.S., as well. About this issue, Stephen Harper can’t be wrong. And on every other issue, Franke James looks suspiciously right.