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Provocative painting calculated to offend Orangemen

If there are two things we in Northern Ireland don't do it's consistency, or irony. Regardless of which side of any debate you are on, with our "us-and-them" lenses we only ever see it from our own perspective.

The recent controversy surrounding a Joe McWilliams painting is a classic example of our binary, mutual myopathy.

In what can only be described as an extreme irony, the controversial McWilliams painting represents an event where musicians (some would call them artists) caused offence by playing a certain tune in a public place on a specific day. Some would say the offence was deliberate; others would say it was provocative, but ultimately the law stepped in and the musicians were convicted of "provocatively playing a sectarian song".

Strangely, the defenders of the McWilliams painting declare art should not be censored, art should be provocative and free from censorship - if you don't like the painting, look at something else.

Bizarrely, this mirrors the defenders of the young musicians outside St Patrick Church, but that's irony for you.

However, we all need to be careful what we wish for. What if an artist - being provocative, of course - were to depict a GAA team winning the Sam Maguire Cup with some members of the team wearing balaclavas and carrying guns? Or the Pride parade making its way through Belfast with some of the participants wearing Jimmy Savile masks?

Would this be freedom of expression? Or a calculated gross insult? Would this be art? Would this be acceptably provocative?

Or would the good and the great clamour for the artist to be banned, their work destroyed and all public funding removed?

In Northern Ireland, we are too ready to take offence, but we are also too ready to give offence?

The only question we refuse to ask is: what was the purpose, or the intent behind the action? The defenders of McWilliams say he was being provocative and art should be, but clearly he was happy to portray Orangemen in the way he did. He knew such a depiction would be offensive to some, but he did it all the same.


Portadown, Co Armagh

Belfast Telegraph


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