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TUV calls for painting depicting 'Orangemen as KKK members' to be removed from RUA exhibition

RUA 'committed' to unfettered expression of its artists

By Jonny Bell

Published 04/11/2015

A close-up of 'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick’s' by Joe McWilliams from the RUA.
A close-up of 'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick’s' by Joe McWilliams from the RUA.
'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick’s' by Joe McWilliams from the RUA.

The TUV has called for the removal of a painting which depicts Orangemen as Ku Klux Klan members to be removed from an art exhibition.

The painting 'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick’s' by the artist Joseph McWilliams shows loyalists marching outside the city centre church.

The piece is part of the prestigious Royal Ulster Academy of Arts (RUA) annual exhibition at the Ulster Museum.

It is McWilliams' last piece before his death and was unveiled at the exhibition just two days after his funeral in October.

Thirteen bandsmen were convicted of provocatively playing a sectarian tune, the Famine Song, outside the church during a Twelfth parade in 2012.

In the left corner of the oil painting are hooded men each wearing a sash.

TUV vice-chair Richard Cairns said this was depicting the Orangemen as KKK members and called for the painting's immediate removal from the exhibition.

The Orange Order has slammed the painting as "deliberate demonisation" and said they are seeking an urgent meeting with museum management regarding the matter.

However, the RUA said it was committed to the "unfettered expression" of artists and it was a "universal characteristic of art" to cause upset to some.

Richard Cairns said: "It has been drawn to my attention that the Royal Ulster Academy exhibition currently on display in the Ulster Museum includes a painting entitled Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick’s.

Members of the Young Conway Volunteers play the Famine Song outside St Patrick’s Church
Members of the Young Conway Volunteers play the Famine Song outside St Patrick’s Church
Police officers attempt to stop fighting between loyalist and nationalist groups outside outside St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Belfast 2012 (AP)
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Royal Black Preceptory parade through Belfast City Centre. The annual parade, which was being held in the centre of Belfast for the first time, had restrictions placed upon it by the Parades Commission. No music was allowed to be played when passing St Patricks Church on Donegall street. Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church when nationalist residents clashed with loyalist supporters.
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Nationalist residents holding a protest opposite St Patrick's Church
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
A loyalist band marches past St Patrick's Church.
Shankill YCV flute band walks past St Patrick's Church
Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church
Royal Black Preceptory parade through Belfast City Centre
A police officer is injured as loyalists and nationalists clash outside St.Patricks Church Donegall Street
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Scenes from outside St Patrick's Church Donegall Street, Belfast July 2012
Winston Irvine outside St.Patricks Church Donegall Street
Trouble flares during the parade at St Patrick's Church
Children pictured in the Shankill estate before the parade forms up
A police man announces the Parades Commission's restrictions as the parade goes past St Patrick's Church

“This painting depicts a number of Orangemen wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing.

"While the Orange Order obviously has strong roots in Ulster it is a religious organisation which draws its membership from Protestants across the world, including Africa.

"Lodges were formed in Nigeria at the beginning of the last century and from there the Institution spread into Togo and Ghana. This fact is acknowledged by the display of the flags of those nations at the recently opened Museum of Orange Heritage."

He added: "It is therefore deeply insulting, offensive and downright inaccurate to suggest that there is some sort of parallel between the Orange Order and the Ku Klux Klan.

"Indeed, it is Sinn Fein/IRA “residents' groups” who seek to impose segregation and cultural apartheid in Northern Ireland, frequently going so far as to prevent members of the Loyal Orders going to or returning from their place of worship.

“I have today written to the museum calling on them to remove this painting from display.

"A publicly funded facility should be welcoming to all sections of society. Sadly the display of this painting does nothing to encourage Unionists to see the Ulster Museum as such.

“Doubtless the museum will cite the many excellent artefacts from Unionist history which it has on display and the special exhibits which it has put on in the past to mark events such as the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.

"However, what we are dealing with when it comes to this painting is a direct attack upon all members of the Loyal Orders and that in an inaccurate and gratuitously offensive fashion.”

A spokesman said: “Members of the Orange Institution are entitled to feel outraged that a major publicly funded facility should display such artwork which is deeply offensive to their traditions, and the ethos of one of the largest community organisations on this island. As a worldwide fraternity, the Order is proud to have autonomous Grand Lodges in West Africa, and with no colour bar, provide a social outlet for members in both Togo and Ghana.

Slamming the painting, the Orange Order has said it "stereotypes Orangeism" and "conveys a negative impression".

It said: "The Institution would have no hesitation in condemning the extremist views of the KKK and 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. Such prejudice and misunderstanding detracts from the extensive and ongoing community outreach by the Order.

“This inaccurate and negative portrayal of the Institution comes only months after the Ulster Museum was accused of ‘republican bias’ due to the lack of Ulster Scots and Orange related literature in its bookshop. It is unfortunate that such partiality prevails in one of Northern Ireland’s leading tourist attractions.

“Senior members of Grand Lodge have asked to meet with representatives of the museum and its board at the earliest opportunity to seek clarification on this serious matter.

"We wish to further discuss how the museum outreaches to the Protestant and Unionist community generally, and specifically how damaging such a display can be to wider community relations.”

The RUA said McWilliams was a former president between 2000 and 2004 and as a senior academician with the organisation, was entitled to submit work "without selection" meaning he was responsible for deciding the piece, its subject matter and treatment, for the exhibition.

RUA president Dr Denise Ferran said: "This year, due to a long protracted illness, Joseph McWilliams submitted one painting, his last work titled 'Christian Flautists outside St Patrick’s', one of the largest works painted by him of this subject matter.

"He worked on the painting, knowing that his death was imminent and indeed his funeral was two days before the opening of the annual exhibition on October 15.

"When his son, Simon McWilliams, who is also a celebrated artist, collected the prize which was awarded posthumously for ‘a work depicting the theme of Ireland today’ the applause of appreciation from the gathered artists and their guests, was long and heartfelt."

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

"Nevertheless, the Royal Ulster Academy, like art institutions through-out the free world supports the right of its artists to unfettered expression.

"Art works 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 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."

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