Belfast Telegraph

Online petition launched as Banbridge council bans gay sex painting

By Amanda Ferguson

Art lovers have been urged to rally to the defence of a piece of work which depicts a gay couple having sex after it was banned from an exhibition.

An online protest petition has been launched by Visual Arts Ireland after Ursula Burke's image of two men intertwined, with a voyeuristic woman observing them, was deemed unsuitable for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge, Co Down.

Banbridge District Council said Burke's piece, entitled After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape, will not be included in The Past is Unpredictable exhibition which runs from May 31 to August 17 as it's not suitable for children.

The upcoming display will feature Burke's other work along with that of artists Deirdre McKenna and Emma Donaldson.

Burke, who is considered one of the most important artists of her generation in Northern Ireland, is known for her work exploring identity and representation.

Noel Kelly, chief executive officer of artist representative body Visual Arts Ireland, urged people to sign a petition to have Burke's excluded work reinstated in the Banbridge exhibition, adding it can be clearly marked as having content parents may wish to control their children’s access to.

"It's a difficulty for any funded organisation to maintain artistic autonomy," he said.

"When a council come in and try to dictate the artistic programme this removes the autonomy of the space itself. It is a definite attack on artistic practice and it starts to question if the space is an attractive place for artists to want to show in."

A statement from Banbridge Council said: "The decision not to include the painting has been taken on the basis that the artwork in question depicted a scene of a sexual nature which was deemed inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery.

"The FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio prides itself as a family-friendly facility and encourages visitors of all ages to visit and view the exhibitions in a welcoming and comfortable environment."

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