John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Get your eye bleach handy, folks.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper's done plenty of questionable things: winning the media's "Code of Silence Award" for his death grip on public information; having his cabinet incur a no-confidence vote last year; using tax money to pay for a personal stylist, the first to ever primp full-time for a Canadian PM.
But one thing he probably hasn't done is sit for a full-frontal nude with a fluffy dog at his feet.
Still, that's how artist Margaret Sutherland likes to imagine him. The New York Academy of Art-trained painter has executed a skillful oil painting of Harper splayed naked as a jaybird on a chaise lounge. (I'm not posting the painting here for copyright reasons, but you can get a good look at it by following this kinda-NSFW link.) The weirdness of the scene is compounded by all the suit-wearing people crowded behind the Conservative Party's esteemed leader, with one woman bending over to hand him a cup of steaming Tim Hortons coffee. To judge from the sly smile on his mug, Harper appears to be enjoying the attention.
Sutherland has left nothing to the imagination. As the Globe and Mail noted in a 2011 review of the work, Harper "looks quite comfortable in his skinny-dipping suit, even cute" and "yes, the body part that earned him a new tie and socks on Father's Day is right up front too, tulip pink and glad to see you." The painting, "Emperor Haute Couture," is on the market for $5,000, should you want something to whip out when you desire boring guests to leave.
But all is not well in the realm of Naked Stephen Harper, aka Kingston, Ontario, located at about a 2.5-hour drive north of Syracuse, New York. The library that is displaying it fears that children might not react well to seeing their leader's regal wang. So librarians have decided to take it down whenever kids are in the vicinity. Here's how chief librarian Patricia Enright explained the censorship to news outlet QMI:
Enright explained the room is used for meetings and other events including children's recitals. "When the Emperor Haute Couture went up, we also had quite a few bookings with children's recitals during the same month," she said. "And so the library, in terms of looking at the policy, had also said that the library retains the right to determine the suitability of any proposed exhibit, and they must be reviewed within a context of the public space and its users."
The artist has taken umbrage at the treatment of her neked Harper. As she pointed out to QMI, this bit of "political satire" is modeled upon a respected 1863 work by Edouard Manet, "Olympia," which itself was inspired by Titian's 1538 masterpiece, "Venus of Urbino." Who's to say eschewing an artist's model or a Roman goddess for Stephen Harper automatically makes a painting pornographic?
Sutherland did not answer the phone when I called today, but on the community website Kingstonist somebody bearing her name said that she was "starting to get very ticked off at the library":
First they wanted to cover it during certain room rentals because they were affraid of giving offense. Then I heard from several people that they were actually taking it off the wall and then forgetting to put it back up again. I've now provided them with a cloth to cover the painting to lessen the chances they will damage it taking it down and putting it who knows where to sit who knows how long. However, with this kind of behaviour I have little confidence they will actually use it. Where does this fit in with the mission of the library???
Harper hasn't hit me back on Twitter to comment on this important story. Perhaps he's conferring with other world leaders who have appeared in unasked-for nude paintings, such as naked Obama riding a unicorn, naked Hillary Clinton and naked George W. Bush, being attended to by naked Dick Cheney. Gah!!!
Top photo of Stephen Harper by Chris Wattie/Reuters.