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Orange Order demands to know why 'insulting' analogy with Ku Klux Klan is on public display

By Lisa Smyth

Published 06/11/2015

The warning notice at the entrance to the exhibition
The warning notice at the entrance to the exhibition

The Orange Order is set to meet with the bosses of the Ulster Museum to demand answers over the inclusion of a controversial painting in an exhibition.

It comes after it emerged one of the paintings at the Royal Ulster Academy's (RUA) 134th annual exhibition on show at the Ulster Museum depicts members of the Orange Order dressed in the infamous uniform of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

The painting, by recently deceased Belfast artist Joseph McWilliams, is one of 310 works on display at the exhibition that began last month.

The Ulster Museum, which was not responsible for selecting material for the exhibition, erected signs at the entrance to the display on Wednesday night warning visitors they may be offended by some of the images inside.

It reads: "Visitors may find some images in this exhibition thought-provoking, controversial and potentially offensive."

A spokeswoman from the museum said: "The Ulster Museum is aware that some works may be sensitive and occasionally provocative and as the host venue of this art exhibition, welcomes all feedback from visitors which it will pass on to the RUA."

Reacting to the decision to erect the signs, a spokesman from the Grand Lodge of Ireland last night said: "It is a necessary step and at least some acknowledgement of the genuine concerns of the Institution and many in the wider community to the inaccurate and misleading nature of the painting in question.

"However, we still want to know does the RUA itself consider the artwork to be offensive?"

He said senior Grand Lodge personnel will met National Museums Northern Ireland early next week regarding the matter.

"The Institution wishes to ascertain their justification for providing exhibition space for such highly offensive material," he added.

The KKK has its roots in the southern United States and has existed on and off since the late 1800s. The hate group, dressed in white robes, masks and conical hats to hide their identity, campaigned for white supremacy, with members launching murderous attacks on African-Americans and those regarded as sympathisers.

It also opposed Catholics and Jews.

The Orange Order has said it condemns the extremist views of the KKK, "and to imply any comparison is as mischievous as it is insulting".

However, RUA president Dr Denise Ferran said: "It is a universal characteristic of art that painting social or political subject matter regrettably can cause upset to some.

"Nevertheless, the RUA, like art institutions throughout the free world, supports the right of its artists to unfettered expression.

"Artworks can be read in many ways but an obscure interpretation of a tiny detail, in a very large painting of a church façade and a pipe band, is no basis for a request to have the painting removed from public exhibition.

"This exhibition has been viewed by thousands, to date, and has received critical acclaim. One telephone complaint was made, to which I responded to at length."

Belfast Telegraph

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