British comedians’ exposure in Calgary: their headshots lifted for public art

In a city already saddled with ill-conceived artwork, officials plan to remove a $20,000 installation from an underpass

For the past two years, a gauzy six-foot image of U.K. comedian Bisha Ali has been staring out at Calgary pedestrians and cars, telling them all: “I want love.” Ali has never been to Calgary, but in 2006 went to Vancouver for a science camp as a teenager. A fellow campmate recently got in touch, informing her that her head shot—blown up and intentionally blurred—was in a public art installation in a downtown underpass.

Surprised and curious, Ali began researching this installation by Derek Michael Besant, a long-established Calgary artist and former art college faculty member. One of the portrait subjects, she thought, looked like fellow comedian Sofie Hagen. Another—that’s Chris Betts. And blurry in the turban, that must be Hardeep Singh Kohli, a broadcaster and National Theatre of Scotland board member.

Her sleuthing well past midnight also revealed that Besant had publicly claimed he’d photographed and interviewed 20 random passersby in the underpass for his $20,000 public art commission—“ a real cross-section of the city,” he told Avenue Calgary. It turns out the photos were all lifted from the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival program, to the shock of the subjects and photographers themselves.