By Jonathan Fowlie
An Image Arts instructor who last week was afraid of being fired because of his art, now says that freedom of speech and artistic integrity remain intact on Ryerson campus.
Almost two weeks ago, Iain Cameron was told by Ann Whiteside, the campus complainants officer, that a harassment complaint had been filed against a piece in his show about Sept. 11, on display on the third floor of the Image Arts building.
At the heart of the complaint was Cameron’s reproduction of the anthrax letter sent to Tom Brokaw last year, which contained hateful language.
“I believe, unfortunately, that someone red [the letter] very literally and took offense to the words ‘death to America, death to Israel,’” he said.
As soon as Cameron received the complaint, he added a label underneath the picture to clarify that these were not his words, but rather a reproduction of the letter sent to Brokaw.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Cameron feels he was wrong to include the work in the show without an explanation or a disclaimer.
“I make no apologies for the show,” he said. “I stand behind it 100 per cent.”
While he was confident in the value of his show, Cameron was still concerned that his contract, which gets renewed on a yearly basis, might be in jeopardy because of the complaint.
“I felt like Bill Maher,” he said, comparing himself to the host of the television show Politically Incorrect who was recently taken off the air after making anti-American remarks.
Last Friday, however, Cameron’s mind was set to ease by Ira Levine, Dean of the Faculty of Communication and Design, who called to offer his unconditional support for the show.
“My personal view is that the complaint is unwarranted under the university’s discrimination and harassment policy,” said Levine in an interview on Friday afternoon.
“I think there’s been a rather unfortunate misperception of the work,” he said. “There’s a distinction that has to be made between the statement in that letter and what the artist is saying about it; they’re not the same thing.”
In response to Levine’s support, Cameron said, “I think it’s marvellous that the dean stood u here and came down on the side of artistic freedom. It’s a real endorsement of the direction of this school.”
When the picture was not taken down, the person who filed the complaint with Ann Whiteside took the matter one step further by sending it to the university president’s office.
“[The piece] was obviously provocative,” said Claude Lajeunesse, “and that’s perfectly normal in a university environment, but it didn’t cross the boundaries of academic freedom.”
While Lajeunesse was satisfied the issue was resolved, Whiteside said she was not able to comment on the case because it was still underway.
Nevertheless, Cameron feels the worst is behind him and that some good has actually come out of this.
“It’s important for the students to hear that if you do [your art] responsibly and thoughtfully [the school] is 100 per cent behind you,” said Cameron.
“I feel I have the freedom not to have to pull punches.”