Stone Memories, Sculptured History: Multiple Readings of Manitoba's Legislative Building

By George Fulford, and others | Ethnologies, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

Stone Memories, Sculptured History: Multiple Readings of Manitoba's Legislative Building


George Fulford, and others, Ethnologies


George Fulford, Jane Leverick, Kimberley Wilde, Maria Fowler, Kara Peters Unrau, Arden Hill and Barbara Wakshinski

University of Winnipeg

Introduction

George Fulford

The Manitoba legislature is more than just a turn-of-the-century building where laws are enacted. It is also a grandiose monument commemorating a bygone era of British Inperialism. Through its sculpture, murals, and remarkable design, the legislature articulates multiple statements glorifying imperialism, progress, and conquest. Taken together, these metaphorical statements constitute a British version of the American myth of manifest destiny, rooted firmly in the rich soil of Manitoba's prairie bottom land.

The six sections comprising this paper represent an experiment in multivocality, an effort to capture many aspects of the legislature through diverse perspectives. It began as research project on reading architecture, part of an honours-level class in semiotics that I taught for the Anthropology department at the University of Winnipeg. The course was designed to be interdisciplinary and attracted students from Anthropology, Women's Studies, Philosophy, and English. Seminar discussions provided the opportunity for mutual journeys of intellectual discovery for both the students and myself. We began with close readings of Terence Hawkes' Structuralism and Semiotics (1977) and various articles from Robert Innis' Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology (1985). We then explored Claude Levi-Strauss' method of structural analysis, compiling concordances based on key myths from The Jealous Potter (1988) and collectively creating a concordance based on published versions of a Cree narrative.

Later, we moved to the poststructural critiques of Derrida (1976, 1978) and Kristeva (1984). Lively debates often ensued between those who were generally supportive of structuralism and those who might be termed postmodernists. While most saw the value of comparative textual analysis, few accepted Levi-Strauss' reductionist reading of mythology as an arbitrary and dualistic interplay between mythemes. Diverse perspectives and experiences made consensus impossible. But by the end of term, a general feeling emerged that literature, storytelling and human creativity are far too complex to be reduced to simple formulae.

The diverse backgrounds and voices of the contributors stand out strongly in this work. Nevertheless, certain patterns and themes do recur. Perhaps most obviously, five of the six contributors are women, reflecting the current state of enrolment in social science courses. Most write from a postmodern feminist perspective. They consistently remark on the absence of female representation in the architecture of the Manitoba legislative building and link this to the concomitant general absence of women in government, and the disappearing and silencing of women's perspectives throughout most of this century. They also note, especially in the iconography of statues and painted human figures in the legislature, a linkage of depictions to western stereotypes: women and Aboriginal peoples to nature and men and Europeans to culture. This stylistic tendency provides insights into more general issues of marginalization, disempowerment, and subordination. Finally, many of the contributors take Francis Yates' (1966) insight about how memory can be structured like architecture to develop arguments about how public architecture is positioned to reflect issues of history and collective memory. This insight is echoed in our title, which was suggested by Jane Leverick, whose paper begins the discussion.

Artifice and Memory

Jane Leverick

The urge to leave our mark on the landscape and create monuments which declare our presence is common to human cultures. The Inuit build inukshuks to guide fellow travellers. The pyramids of the ancient Egyptians laud the Pharaohs and display their image of the afterlife. …

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