Artist accuses federal government of 'political bullying'


Artist Franke James

Artist Franke James

Photograph by: Handout, Postmedia News

The federal government is denying accusations from Toronto artist Franke James that it is responsible for a planned European showing of her work falling apart.

James and a Croatian non-governmental organization that was helping mount the show say political interference may have cost her work — which criticizes Canada’s environmental record — its moment in the spotlight.

She accuses Canadian officials of trying to bully sponsors into withdrawing funds needed to keep the show going.

An artist renowned for her storytelling visual essays that address environmental and social issues, James was planning to have her piece, What Would the Planet Do with 6.8 Billion People Frying The Planet, along with several others, tour 20 European cities starting at the end of August until December.

The tour, a lifetime opportunity for James, is now in jeopardy since Croatian NGO Nektarina, which is spearheading the initiative, received news that its major donor, a Swiss insurance company in Zagreb, Croatia, was withdrawing its contribution that was supposed to help purchase James’ art and cover tour costs. James and the NGO said an unknown Canadian official expressed disapproval of her work, which was deemed anti-government.

Nektarina’s co-founder, Sandra Antonovic, said the Swiss sponsor pulling out was the second blow, claiming that the Canadian embassy in Zagreb had also initially agreed to support the project with a $5,000 grant on April 30, but a week later, rescinded the offer on what she says was an order from Ottawa.

“(The Canadian official) said they got a call from Canada and said Franke James speaks out against the Canadian government,” said Antonovic.

“This destroys a business opportunity for me, this goes beyond what the Canadian embassy should be doing,” said James.

She said she had earlier contacted trade commissioner Candice Rice who sent an email to several European embassies throwing her support behind her show.

“It was a real shocker to learn that I am blacklisted. And that none of the Canadian embassies wants anything to do with me — or the show. Not one embassy. They can’t even offer me a handshake, which seems very strange and very ’un-Canadian,’ ” said James.

Canadian officials and the insurance company both deny the allegations of political bullying or that there were any guaranteed funds.

Both parties do confirm they have made contributions to the non-profit before. Foreign Affairs said it allotted $2,700 last year to Nektarina for a project encouraging youth through social networks to reduce their carbon footprint. The Swiss company wrote in a statement it donated $2,700 last year and said it has no knowledge of the current allegations.

“Civil servants made their decision based on their professional expertise,” said Foreign Affairs spokesman Chris Day. “Allegations of a political conspiracy against Ms. James are a fantasy of her own making.

“There was no political interference in this decision. The government is not in the practice of intervening between the artist and the private sponsor and did not do so in this case. No money was ever guaranteed nor was it withdrawn,” he added.

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Artist Franke James

Artist Franke James

Photograph by: Handout, Postmedia News


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