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Petition aims to stop installation of proposed 'Boy Holding a Shark' sculpture near False Creek

The president of the organization erecting the public art says the pushback is common and refutes claims made in the petition
Boy Holding a Shark
The proposed 'Boy Holding a Shark' sculpture would be erected on the Sea Wall near Vancouver’s False Creek by the Vancouver Biennale.

A proposed public art installation near False Creek has been met with pushback from nearby residents.

The Boy Holding A Shark sculpture is to be installed by the Vancouver Biennale, a non-profit charitable organization that exhibits art in public spaces around the city. The sculpture was created by Chinese artist Chen Wenling and, if approved would be erected on a raised garden area by the Vancouver Seawall to the east of Moberly Road in July, and remain there for two years. 

Standing at 7.8 metres high — or about 2.5 storeys, Boy Holding a Shark shows a teal-coloured boy holding a grey, dripping shark. It’s estimated to weigh 1,200 kilograms, the equivalent of a small car. For the keen-eyed, this style may look familiar as its creator also made the bright red, three-ton, 18-foot sculpture The Proud Youth which appeared in Yaletown in March. In fact, the two sculptures would be right across from one another looking over False Creek.

According to the Vancouver Biennale, the Boy Holding a Shark intends to look into the subject of human nature. 

“Sharks are often considered to be ferocious animals,” the artwork’s webpage reads. “However, due to humans’ endless thirst for interest and expansion of destructive activities, the oceans and marine life, including sharks, have severely suffered from environmental damages, such as global warming and sea pollution, that are fatal to marine life.” 

'An unsightly imposition'

There are those who don’t see it that way though. 

The petition to stop the sculpture’s installation was started two weeks ago and has so far garnered nearly 300 signatures. The petition points out the sculpture’s weight and size while calling it “an unsightly imposition” on the garden-like setting of the neighbourhood.

A signatory of the petition with the username Ann Ramsay says the oversized piece of art doesn't invite someone to observe, it forces them. 

“It is not appropriate in scale or in its location. I also question its integrity of intention,” Ramsay writes.

Another signatory by the username of MC Marciniak also says the piece is not suitable for the location, claiming it will obscure views, which can affect property values. 

“We have many seniors and people who are mobility compromised,” Marciniak writes. “This is a place they come to for a break, to refresh, to re-energize and to feel close to nature. This section of the seawall is already a hazard without adding this abomination.”

‘These things have always happened’

Barrie Mowatt, founder, president and curator of the Vancouver Biennale says this kind of opposition to the Biennale’s projects is far from uncommon.

"These things have always happened," Mowatt said, adding there was significant pushback to The Proud Youth sculpture as well.

"One of the objectives of 'the B' is that art is a catalyst, it’s really meant to be a vehicle to catch your attention, to engage you, to get the community engaged in some capacity,” Mowatt said.  “That certainly has happened with Amazing Laughter and a couple of the other works."

The petition also alleges there has been little neighbourhood consultation, to which Mowatt says the Biennale is following the consultation guidelines set out by the City of Vancouver.

"It’s not as high as people are trying to imagine. Historically everyone always thinks things are much bigger and more oppressive than they actually are," Mowatt continued adding the nearest condo building is a great distance behind where the sculpture would be erected.

In a bizarre twist, the public opposition against the sculpture has lead to the most support for a project that Mowatt has ever seen.

The City of Vancouver will be taking people’s thoughts and concerns up until June 14.