Canadian artist accused of ripping off Edinburgh Fringe images

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An artist who received thousands of pounds in public funding has been accused of lifting images from an Edinburgh Fringe brochure and passing them off as his own.

Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant banked £12,000 ($20,000 Canadian Dollars) for staging an art installation.

A Canadian artist has been accused of lifting images from Edinburgh Fringe Brochures. Picture: TSPL

A Canadian artist has been accused of lifting images from Edinburgh Fringe Brochures. Picture: TSPL

The work includes 20 large portraits featuring blurred faces of people he claimed were residents of Calgary - where he has been active since the early 1970s.

But a chance encounter has led to accusations that the images were actually taken from a brochure - from 2015 - listing comedians performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Performers, who took part in the world’s largest arts festival, have now accused Besant of being a ‘plagiarist’ and said his actions were ‘hilarious and bizarre’.

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The picture of Bisha as displayed in the tunnel in Calgary, Canada.  Picture: Centre Press.

The picture of Bisha as displayed in the tunnel in Calgary, Canada. Picture: Centre Press.

One of the comedians, who recognised a doctored version of a profile picture taken of her in 2013, was London based stand up comic Bisha K Ali.

‘It was a picture of me’

She said a photo of her was used without her or her photographer’s permission in the art installation.

The 28-year-old said: “My friend who lives in Canada sent me a picture and said they had been walking one day and noticed a piece of art that looked like me.

“I couldn’t believe the coincidence - it was a picture of me that featured in a 2015 brochure from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“It’s plagiarism, and it is ripping off artists and photographers who spent their time and money taking those for the Fringe and creating the brochure.

“The audacity of having seven-foot portraits of comedians is unbelievable.

“It has been on display since 2015, he [Besant] probably thought no-one would notice.

“I’m interested to hear what the artist has to say for himself, because for a big-time artist to be doing that is just wrong.

“He must not have thought that any of us comedians would become known internationally.

“It’s hilarious - really bizarre and kind of funny.”

When Bisha was sent the photographs, she quickly realised she was not the only performer from the Fringe to be featured in the installation.

Some of the other large Polaroid-like images of slightly blurred faces feature comedians including Ashley Storrie and Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Photoshop

Another comedian who has hit out at the arts project is Sofie Hagen who said she realised that an image she provided to the festival had been photoshopped.

The original photograph had her in a pink T-shirt with a small white horse on her shoulder.

But on social media, she said: “They edited out the horse and put ‘I OWN NOTHING’ over my face - um, I obviously own a little horse.”

The art project, known as Snapshots, was installed in October 2015 at an underpass in Calgary and was meant to capture the ‘notions of place and personal context’.

According to a brief about the project on the city’s website, the images are meant to portray the lives of people who pass through the underpass each day.

Commissioned by Calgary’s Planning, Development & Assessment department, the project featured photos with various short phrases printed over them.

“I LIVE HERE,” “I HAVE A JOB” and “I WALK TO WORK,” are some of the phrases laid over the photos.

At the time Besant said: “The portraits represent a cross-section of what any downtown core of a big city reveals and conceals as the flow of occupants.

“The reference to Polaroid SNAPSHOTS invites an immediacy... an intimacy, to what is a high traffic public art context.

“And between the hundred steps it takes to traverse this corridor, we might just come face-to-face with ourselves…”

Reaction

It is understood that the Mayor of Calgary has ordered an investigation into a public art display in the Canadian city.

Derek Michael Besant has been approached for comment.

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said: “The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society was not contacted or consulted by either the City of Calgary or the artist in question regarding the SNAPSHOTS art installation.

“While we acknowledge that artists images are available on a number of platforms online, we will be following up with the City of Calgary to understand how this has occurred.”

Kurt Hanson, general manager of community services at the City of Calgary, said the art installation will be removed.

He said: “The City of Calgary was made aware of concerns about the temporary art installation in the 4th Street underpass.

“As part of the City’s investigation, we have been in contact with the artist.

“The artist has said that we should remove the installation. We will be doing this and are considering our next steps.”