Belfast Telegraph

Call for police probe as controversial Gilbert and George exhibition opens in Belfast

By Jonathan Bell

A call has been made for the police to investigate artwork featuring in a controversial exhibition at Belfast MAC gallery.

Gilbert and George return to the city for the first time in almost 20 years with their large-scale exhibition Scapegoating Pictures.

The iconic duo's work occupies all three of the MAC's galleries and includes work described as controversial and challenging centred on the role religion plays in society.

Protests have been held and more are planned for the duration of the show.

The iconic artists were met with protests back in 1999 when they exhibited in Belfast for the first time.

Retired Free Presbyterian Minister David McIlveen said one piece of work, Triptych, verged on hate speech and called on the police to investigate.

"If this was outside an art gallery it wouldn't be allowed, to me it is hate speech" he told the Belfast Telegraph.

The work includes statements such as "f*** the vicar" "sh** in the pulpit". Other phrases used in the exhibition include "Rape a Rabbi" and "Molest a Mullah".

"It's very offensive - the very fact there is a warning that some of the work may offend before you go says it all," continued Rev McIlveen.

"I would call on those behind the exhibition and those providing funding to reconsider and I have called on the police to investigate.

"For me it is not art to write an offensive statement. Art is about the talent of the artist in their drawings or expressions. This is deliberate, provocative and resentment against the church and they are seeking to discredit its message. It is unacceptable."

Rev McIlveen likened the artwork to the planting of a pig's head outside a mosque in Co Down.

"That was despicable and to be condemned. But if the person responsible said it was art it would be no defence."

A spokesman for the MAC said the work sought to challenge views and ideas prevalent in today's society.

"It is so much more than just the one piece of artwork. It is powerful and challenging work that is designed to provoke and create conversation and pose questions. 

"Gilbert and George themselves say it is designed to challenge and to reflect the society we all live in.

"It is not to be missed."

He added: "It has to be viewed in its context. It is in an art gallery, it is contemporary and about people coming to view it and consider the arguments it is putting forward. And there will be people who don't like it.

"The response we have had so far has been positive and the interest is huge. Gilbert and George are displaying their work in Rome, New York and Belfast. This is a real coup for the MAC to have and I would urge people to get down and see it for themselves and make up their own minds."

Police were asked for a response.

The exhibition runs from Friday until April 22.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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