How Public is Public Art? A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Racial Subtext of Public Monuments at Canada’s Pier 21

Patience Adamu 1 , Deon Castello 2 ,  and Wendy Cukier 2
  • 1 Ryerson University, , Toronto, Canada
  • 2 Ryerson University, , Toronto, Canada


Much of the literature on public space focuses on physical inclusion and exclusion rather than social inclusion or exclusion. In this paper, the implications of this are considered in the context of two monuments, The Volunteers/Les Bénévoles, and The Emigrant, located outside the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These monuments, while perhaps designed to celebrate Canadian multiculturalism, can be read instead as signaling Canada’s enduring commitment to white supremacy, Eurocentricity and colonization, when viewed through the eyes of racialized immigrants. Thus the “public space” becomes exclusionary. In the context in which the monuments are situated, the racial subtext cannot be ignored. This article purports that images, text and placement, regardless of intention, have significant implications on public space and public demeanor.

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