Gold tears deface Oscar Peterson statue

By Jasminee Sahoye

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson

Ottawa police have yet to lay charges against two youths captured on surveillance footage defacing the sculpture of Canadian jazz icon Oscar Peterson in downtown Ottawa.

The footage shows two youths putting gold paint into the eyes of the lifesize sculpture shortly after midnight early last week. The sculpture has since been returned to its normal appearance.

The paint was not added to other parts of the sculpture, created by sculptor Ruth Abernethy.

Asked if the vandalism could have been a racial protest, Abernethy told the Ottawa Citizen, “Whether it’s connected to the events in Ferguson (Missouri), I have no idea. You don’t have to go far to find ourselves running into the hostility of racism.

“Whatever part Oscar can play in that ongoing protest and the dissolution of it, then let’s have that conversation.”

The tears were added with gold paint on the dark patina of the bronze figure, part of a 600-kilogram array that includes a piano and a bench, which is a popular place for people to sit.

National Arts Centre director of communications Rosemary Thompson says the vandals also put graffiti “tags” on two outside garage doors of the NAC. The painted tears were removed from the sculpture later that day.

Some in Ottawa are saying the painted tears serve as an eloquent comment on the racial tensions that followed the recent shooting death by police of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson.

However, not everyone agrees the vandalism can be taken as a comment, including Peterson’s widow, Kelly Peterson.

“You have given the vandals more credibility than they deserve by offering the possibility that this was a statement about racism,” Peterson wrote to the Citizen. “This was an act of vandalism. To even contemplate that it was anything else is beyond me.

“It is my fervent hope that they will be charged with vandalism, rather than glorified for starting a conversation about an issue far more important than their irresponsible, vile act,” she said in the newspaper.

Peterson was an internationally acclaimed musician, and one of many songs he recorded was Gentle Tears, released on the 1978 album The Paris Concert. He faced racism early in his career and was committed to racial equality.

The National Arts Centre raised $300,000 in private donations to pay for the sculpture, a tribute to Peterson’s immense role in Canadian culture.