Kiss and Tell

Researcher: Stephen Foster

This project is made up of three components with slightly divergent themes. Each component is about the tracing and documenting of personal narrative in public spaces and observing the contradictions between ‘official’ historical narratives embodied in public monuments and individual expressions of love, identity and politics viewed through graffiti.

The opening page of the website represents the routes I took to document the graffiti on and around the walls of Old Québec. As you click on the different routes specific zones become available to explore. Each zone presents a portfolio of images documenting some of the graffiti from that area. The zone maps also allow you to jump from the current zone to neighboring zones so you can explore different areas in relationship to the area currently being viewed. There is a video, accessed from the route page, which presents a somewhat poetic and abstract journey of the promenade path around the citadel.

As an Indigenous artist, I am interested in the representation of First Nation’s culture within the monuments of Québec. The prerequisite ‘romantic savage’ statutes often associated with public monuments can be found at the National Assembly and the Montmorency monument of Bishop Laval. But I became interested in the less heroic images found on the freezes of the Monument de la Foi, built in 1916 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Récollet fathers' arrival in Quebec City. The Récollets were the first missionaries in New France and were some of the first missionaries to begin conversions of the local First Nations in the region. The depictions of the First Nations individuals in the freezes are unique in their somewhat casual and decidedly less noble presentation. For the second component of this web project, I wanted to contrast this with the images of ‘indianess’ found in the tourist shops of the lower town of Québec City with these images found on the monument. You will find both these sections marked in blue on the route and zone maps.

The third component is built around the old façade of the St. Vincent de Paul church. I found the relationship between the graffiti and the architecture to be different at this site than what I documented elsewhere. The reclaiming of the old church architecture for new purposes has an ironic and nostalgic quality, but the graffiti I found there also seems to acquire a heroic dimension. The combination of the grand scale of the architecture and the relative isolation of the building’s position in the urban landscape are likely contributing factors. In this web work, I attempted to capture the graphic harshness of the graffiti and the architectural quality of the building and its location.   

When I arrived at La Chambre Blanche, I wanted to work with a concept of competing historical narratives as represented through public monuments. Official monuments function in specific ways within our society and serve a variety of roles. While they celebrate the past and inspire us with shared ideals, they are also a means of expressing and propagating dominant myths and official historical narratives. They are intended to bolster the power of the state through heroic imagery while suppressing or distorting alternative interpretations of history. This is a process of myth building and propaganda, and is an act of censorship in itself as it eliminates or subjugates alternative voices and perspectives. The graffiti in these spaces is in part an act of re/claiming a space or place for personal expression within a public forum. This type of expression is marginalized and even criminalized within our society, but it is not uncommon for people to claim this space and express their views through an act of graffiti.

After documenting some of the more iconic monuments of Quebec City, I was struck by the dialogue that appeared to be evolving on the walls of the old city. While in the strictest sense, the walls of Quebec are not a public monument they do have a certain iconic significance for the history and culture of Québec. The walls and the nearby structures, monuments and parks are significant areas for graffiti in the old city. Throughout the different sections of the wall, the focus and content of the graffiti seems to change and take different ironic and sometimes satirical juxtapositions depending on the object and subject of the graffiti and the structure that it is painted, inscribed or carved on. I found the graffiti on the canons of the Ramparts and of Montmorency Park more personal in nature while the westerly approaches through the gates and the citadel to be politically charged.

After a period of consideration, I chose to restrict the type of graffiti I would document. I was really looking for the primitive and direct expressions, not highly technical and evolved ‘Graffiti Art’ that is also prevalent in the city – although not necessarily on the walls of the old city. I find the ‘Graffiti Art’ to be much more concerned with being art and done by individuals that are technically and highly skilled artists. By restricting the project to the ‘amateur’ graffiti, I was hoping to capture a more direct and personalized expression. The graffiti ranges from overt political statements to lovers’ proclamations to the ubiquitous “I was here…” In the title for my project I have attempted to capture the notion of the human mark as kiss as well as a type of telling. The ‘telling’ of stories in these public spaces over time creates an alternative history – one that is sometimes ironic and sometimes subversive – revealing a more complex notion of history, which creates a living context for the monuments and symbols the state.


Link to Project:


Kiss and Tell