Lest We Forget


Excerpt from Remembering Women Murdered by Men: Memorials Across Canada by The Cultural Memory Group, Sumach Press, Toronto, 2006, pages 57-58.

...Lest We Forget, University of Calgary

In 1994, Lest We Forget found a permanent home on the University of Calgary campus, through the efforts of Dean of Law Sheilagh Martin and some law faculty alumnae. The piece by Calgary artist Teresa Posyniak remembers and protests violence against women through language, motifs of nature and ominous images of deterioration and disappearance. The sculpture, which is close to a storey high but with a broken-off top that suggests its reach could be much higher, sits in the airy main foyer of the Law Building. The location was deliberately chosen to encourage members of the legal profession to be mindful of feminist social justice and legislative inadequacies in the protection of women. As Posyniak describes it:

The sculpture stands seven feet high and sixteen by twenty-four inches at the base which is surrounded by bronze painted leaves. Constructed of wood and Styrofoam, it is covered with thick sheets of handmade paper and painted a luminous, silvery bronze. One hundred thirty-five women's names and ages some names added from the Calgary area (to Mary Billy's femicide list) are carefully written on the paper surface, interspersed with the phrase "lest we forget." Although intentionally reminiscent of war memorials, Lest We Forget differs significantly from traditional heroic tributes to posterity. Its human scale, its intimacy, its personalized script and especially its fragile, organic material suggest impermanence and vulnerability. Ominously, one side of the sculpture is left partially blank for future entries as the violence against women continues.

Aiming to juxtapose vulnerability and strength, Posyniak employed handmade, tattered material and architectural reference points reminiscent of ruins to convey a melancholic ephemerality. The fragility and decay of the sculpture imply the vulnerability of any structure (a home, safety, shelter), the "nature of justice for victims of murder" (Severson 1994), and the inconstancy of memory. This display of deterioration, along with the handwritten script, subverts the otherwise traditionally vertical form. In reminding us of phallic war monuments, the work challenges their notions of conquest, heroism, the permanence and righteousness of the status quo. Posyniak's materials evoke the destructiveness of violence to create "a symbol for the collective grieving of women murdered day after day" (quoted in Beacom 1994,5). The 135 names of murdered girls and women, ages 6 to 84, descend on the viewer in an unremitting barrage that is both insistent and fragile, as its materials crumble into nothingness. The metallic surfaces seem simultaneously to reflect and absorb light, rendering the piece both bright and dark, visually destabilizing presence. The piece demands attention, its emotional effects linked intimately with political reflection...