When the Mexican-Canadian artist Miriam Aroeste accepted a commission from the Holborn group to produce 180 original pieces for the new Trump Tower in Vancouver, which opens today, 28 February, she never dreamed she would be caught up in a political maelstrom.
“I had an amazing working relationship with my client,” she says of the Holborn Group, the development firm lead by Joo Kim Tiah, the son of the Malaysian real estate magnate Tony Tiah Thee Kian, who built the tower. “They gave me great freedom of expression and never interfered in my creative process.”
But recently, she has received an outpouring of online criticism questioning her personal integrity and calling her a “sellout”, after she said she would attend the opening of the building. “It’s been extremely hurtful to have received so much abuse,” she relates by phone, adding that she is shocked at the conflation of her work with US President Donald Trump’s politics.
Aroeste, who has lived in Canada since 1990 and says she is a proud Mexican-Canadian, explains that all of her work was commissioned and completed long before Trump was elected in the US. “What did people expect me to do?” she asks. “Go to Trump Tower and take back all of my 180 works that had already been completed and installed? It didn’t even belong to me by then, but to Holborn. I make my living as an artist and had to pay my suppliers like everyone else.”
Ironically, she says that most of the negative commentary has come from Canadians, who have been very vocal in their opposition to the building of a Trump Tower in Vancouver, and that she has received greater support from the Mexican community.
Ultimately, she says, “I’m an artist, not a politician, and my work is about love and peace.”