Halifax artist shortlisted to propose design for LGBTQ monument in Ottawa

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Margot Durling is a non-binary, transgender and queer artist based in Halifax. (Invidia Obscura - image credit)
Margot Durling is a non-binary, transgender and queer artist based in Halifax. (Invidia Obscura - image credit)

A Halifax artist who received international attention for their art installation honouring chosen family and kinship has made the shortlist to propose designs for a national monument memorializing the decades of discrimination faced by LGBTQ people in Canada.

Margot Durling's piece, Chosen Family, was unveiled last fall at the Halifax Common. It features colourful symbols representing a spectrum of gender identities, and is named for the people who support members of the LGBTQ community who may not be accepted by their own family.

Recognition for that sculpture led Durling, a visual artist and the creative director at Fathom Studio in Halifax, to be selected to lead one of five teams that will propose designs for a monument in Ottawa.

"Since Chosen Family came out, I hear almost on a weekly basis that it's provided people a sense of healing and visibility, and that it's come to reclaim a space that has not existed for many of us for a long time," Durling told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Durling, who uses they/them pronouns, said they hope the Ottawa monument can have the same impact, "but on a bigger scale, and on a more permanent scale that can be felt throughout the world."

Chosen Family features colourful symbols to represent a vast spectrum of gender identities.
Chosen Family features colourful symbols to represent a vast spectrum of gender identities.(CBC)

The artist said it all started when they got a call from MVRDV, an architecture and landscape architecture firm based in the Netherlands, in late November.

"They said, you know, 'We saw Chosen Family and we've seen this opportunity to create a monument for the queer community in Ottawa, and we were wondering if you'd like to partner with us on that,'" they said.

"After I had picked myself up off the floor, I called them back and said, 'Yes, of course, we would love to do this with you.'"

Durling's team is also working with Two Row Architect, an Indigenous-led architecture firm based out of Six Nations Of The Grand River in Ontario.

Monument will honour victims of LGBT Purge

The Ottawa monument will honour the victims of what's referred to as the LGBT Purge, which took place between the 1950s and the 1990s, "which is not that long ago," said Durling.

"Members of our community — particularly in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, federal public service — they were all systematically discriminated against and harassed, and many of them fired, as a matter of policy and sanctioned practice in our government," they said.

"These people, they were followed, they were interrogated like they were criminals, many abused and traumatized by their own government that they served."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wipes his eye as he delivers a formal apology to LGBTQ people in Canada in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wipes his eye as he delivers a formal apology to LGBTQ people in Canada in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Members of the military and other federal agencies affected by the purge launched a class-action lawsuit in late 2016 and reached a settlement in 2018. During that period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered a historic apology to the community.

Some of the money from the lawsuit was set aside for several reconciliation and remembrance measures, including the national monument in Ottawa.

An 'amazing' opportunity

According to the Government of Canada's website, the monument is scheduled to be completed by 2025. The National Capital Commission approved a site next to the Ottawa River last year.

Durling's team, along with the other four teams selected to propose designs for the monument, will have until August to complete their designs.

Members of the LGBTQ community, along with stakeholders and the public, will be able to view and provide feedback on the finalists' proposals before a design is chosen. The government said this will happen some time in the fall.

Durling said they are happy their Halifax art installation may lead to something bigger.

"Something of such a small scale, in my mind, that's in Halifax, that's so personal to me, and had such a small price tag attached to it — the fact that I got this international attention and it led to this, potentially, the biggest opportunity of my life, is really amazing," they said.

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