Reinstate Ursula Burke ‘After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape’ in forthcoming F E McWilliam exhibition

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Reinstate Ursula Burke ‘After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape’ in forthcoming F E McWilliam exhibition

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Banbridge District Council’s Director of Leisure and Development has instructed that work by Ursula Burke be removed from the forthcoming exhibition The Past is Unpredictable at the F E McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge.

Burke is known for her work exploring identity and representation. She has exhibited widely and is considered one of the important artists of her generation in Northern Ireland.  She is represented in many private and public collections including the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the State Art Collection Ireland. She is currently the Northern Ireland resident artist in the British School in Rome, an accolade awarded only to Northern Irish artists who have achieved both international and local recognition.

The image in question is one of a series of 9 studies in the style of Arcadian landscapes that were prominent in the 17th and 18th Century. Burke has placed contemporary Northern Irish contexts within each. For example, one landscape contains an armoured police vehicle with a broken lamp post. A second contains youths attacking riot police, and the image that has been removed contains an image of a same sex couple intertwined and naked with a voyeuristic onlooker set in an idealised landscape. The use of the nude has a tradition dating back to Ancient Greek and Roman art. In primitive cultures right through to contemporary society the nude has a fetishistic role and has been used by artists such as Dürer, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rodin, Manet, and Poussin. The subject matter chosen by Burke fits very well within the context of this style of drawing and compares favourably to similar drawings by Poussin contained in the Royal Collection.

In a statement from Jeff Byers, Communications Assistant at Banbridge District Council, he outlined “Following a review by Banbridge District Council’s Director of Leisure and Development, it has been agreed that the artwork entitled ‘After Frans Van Bloeman – Arcadian Landscape’ by artist Ursula Burke would not be included in the forthcoming exhibition, The Past is Unpredictable, which is due to open at the FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge on 31 May 2014.

This decision has been taken on the basis that the artwork in question depicted a scene of a sexual nature which was deemed inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery.

The FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio prides itself as a family friendly facility and encourages visitors of all ages to visit and view the exhibitions in a welcoming and comfortable environment.

Banbridge District Council acknowledges that art should sometimes be challenging to the viewer and does not endorse censorship on artistic grounds. However, the Council’s child protection policy also ensures that minors should not be exposed to material that may cause concern or prove upsetting to the child.”

This trend by councils to interfere with the curatorial and artistic autonomy of their funded spaces is a direct attack on the freedom of artistic expression.  It is clear that galleries in Northern Ireland have found ways to deliver on their child protection policies which all publically funded spaces must have. Exhibitions can be clearly marked as to having content that parents may wish to control their children’s access to. Cases in point are the recent Kara Walker exhibition in The MAC which contained scenes of sexual intercourse in Walker’s shadow puppetry style, and the current exhibition by Alan Phelan in Golden Thread Gallery which contains scenes of extreme sexual practice in found video footage. Both exhibitions were open to the public with clear warnings to parents about these works.

This type of action is a direct parallel with the recent attempts in Newtownabbey to cancel the performance of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Bible which led to outrage not only in the United Kingdom but also internationally.

Noel Kelly – Director / Chief Executive Officer, Visual Artists Ireland



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