Monument to Piazza Italia (2014) is a work by Vancouver-based, Cree/Métis artist Gabe Hill. The photograph documents an evening of electrical repairs by Hill and her brother, who rewired the lighting in Piazza Italia in East Vancouver to temporarily illuminate the square’s empty pedestal, raising questions around monuments, public space, and absence. Piazza Italia, which housed a statue of Christopher Columbus between 1986 and 2000, has been the site of an ideological struggle between anticolonial and pro-Columbus proponents since its construction. After years of vandalism, the statue was relocated to the Italian Garden at Hastings Park. Since the statue’s removal, its pedestal has sat vacant, the plaza’s fountain and electricity shut off, despite the space still being well used by many.
Posing the question of what is missing, Monument foregrounds the absence of other histories, of what has not been memorialized in the public realm: namely the histories of Indigenous peoples, the original occupants of this land—those “found” by the likes of Columbus. Piazza Italia sits on what was once the shore of an inlet named False Creek by explorers, the shallow mud flats and streams of its eastern end rich in resources valuable to the local Indigenous communities. Though never ceded by Indigenous peoples, settlers transformed the area into the site of heavy industry in the late 1800s. In 1910, the City of Vancouver gifted the land to the Canadian Northern Railway, which ultimately filled in the wetlands to build its terminus. With this history of displacement in mind, Monument memorializes the site as one of ongoing anticolonial struggle. What Hill illuminates in this photograph is more than an unoccupied pedestal; it is the persistence of Indigenous claims to—and memory of—an irreparably altered landscape. Monument underscores Piazza Italia’s status as a counter-monument, speaking against the narratives of discovery and conquest it once represented and recalling what is seldom publicly remembered.
This work is commissioned as part of the Capture Photography Festival and in relation to the theme of ćәsnaʔәm, the city before the city, an exhibition developed by the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre. Thanks to InTransit BC.