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Warning notices placed at exhibition featuring painting of Orangemen as Ku Klux Klan

By Lesley Houston

Warning notices have been placed at the entrances to the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts (RUA) exhibition at the Ulster Museum after one piece sparked controversy by depicting Orangemen wearing the sinister white hoods of the racist Ku Klux Klan.

Members of the DUP and the TUV united in a call for the painting - by the late Joseph McWilliams - to be removed from view.

It is part of an Ulster Museum display organised by the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts (RUA).

The Orange Order said the painting was a "deliberate demonisation" of its cultural heritage and feared it could damage community relations.

But the museum has remained defiant and is refusing to remove the piece.

However, last night, in a bow to the pressure, warning notices were placed at the three entrances to the exhibition.

They say: "Visitors may find some images in this exhibition thought-provoking, controversial and potentially offensive.”

The oil work, Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick's, shows loyalists marching outside the city centre church, with some wearing sashes and KKK hoods of the white extremist group.

It was McWilliams' last painting before his death last month at the age of 76 and was unveiled at the exhibition just two days after his funeral.

The painting is an interpretation of a Twelfth parade in 2012 when 13 bandsmen from the Young Conway Volunteers played the Famine Song outside St Patrick's Church on Belfast's Donegall Street as they marched in a circle.

They were later convicted of provocatively playing a sectarian tune outside the Catholic church.

"This was outrageous and inflammatory behaviour which could have precipitated serious public disorder," District Judge Paul Copeland said.

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Yesterday an Orange Order spokesman said it condemned "the extremist views of the KKK".

He added that "to imply any comparison is as mischievous as it is insulting".

"In our view this painting stereotypes Orangeism, and in so doing conveys a negative impression," he said.

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey, a member of the Orange Order, said the work was "deliberately offensive".

"There is no artistic benefit in depicting members of the Orange Institution as wearing Ku Klux Klan headpieces," he said.

"This painting conveys a message no more sophisticated than some of the offensive graffiti daubed on gable walls."

He added the scene illustrated "an attempt by its creator to include a subtle but absolutely apparent sectarian slur".

The TUV has echoed the call for the painting's removal.

The party's vice-chair Richard Cairns said it was "deeply insulting, offensive and downright inaccurate to suggest that there is some sort of parallel between the Orange Order and the Ku Klux Klan".

However, the RUA said it was committed to artists' freedom of expression and there was no basis to remove it. Dr Denise Ferran said it was "a universal characteristic of art that painting social or political subject matter, regrettably, can cause upset to some".

But she added "an obscure interpretation of a tiny detail" formed "no basis" for its removal.

Before the exhibition Ms Ferran said that the painting "will be silent testimony to the man and his craft".

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