Officials in the Canadian city of Ottawa said they did not authorize the face and hands of a popular Black Virgin Mary statue to be altered with white paint. According to CBC, the Notre Dame D’Afrique (Our Lady of Africa) is situated in Richelieu-Vanier Park.
Responding to the conspicuous change, the city said it suspects it was an act of vandalism that wasn’t sanctioned. Per Vanier Museopark, the Society of Missionaries of Africa initially mounted the statue in 1955. The site on which the statue is situated was also once owned by the society. And the erection of the statue came after the priests within the society settled on the holy figure as their patron saint in 1938.
The Virgin Mary is said to be usually portrayed as a figure with dark skin in Africa. The statue in Vanier was portrayed likewise until its face and hands were recently painted white. And though the city oversees maintenance works on the statue, it told the news outlet that it did not arrange for the monument to be repainted, adding that it “appears to be vandalism.”
In the wake of the incident, the Ottawa police as well as the city’s corporate office were made aware of the repainting. Officials are also currently arranging for the statue to be restored.
“Work has since begun to have the statue restored and repainted,” Dan Chenier, Ottawa’s general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, told CBC in an email. “As a contract has not yet been awarded, we do not have a timeline for completion of this work at this time.”
The project officer with the Franco-Ontarian Heritage Network, Diego Elizondo, told the news outlet in an email that this isn’t the first time the statue has been vandalized. And in an effort to ward off further incidents of vandalism, Elizondo said lights had to be fixed around the site in 1994.
The statue, together with other items on the site it is situated, is protected by a heritage designation. Stéphanie Plante, who is the councillor for Rideau-Vanier, said the area has also similarly recorded incidents where monuments of such nature have been vandalized.
“We want to make sure that Rideau-Vanier, because it does include a lot of vulnerable populations, is reflective of the people who live there and that we’re preserving our historic monuments,” Plante said.
“If the population would like to take that down or rename it, I’m absolutely open to those kinds of discussions. But as far as I know, that’s probably another one of many incidents in our ward where people feel like they can be creative with our city infrastructure.”