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Warning sign erected near Joseph McWilliams painting

A warning sign in the Ulster Museum near the art work of Joe McWilliams on Thursday. Picture by Hugh Russell 
Marie Louise McConville

A WARNING notice has been placed beside a painting at a Belfast museum amid claims it shows members of the Orange Order dressed in Ku Klux Klan clothing.

The 7ft oil canvas entitled `'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick's', was the last major work by renowned Belfast artist Joseph McWilliams before his death last month.

The painting depicts loyalist bands men marching in circles outside St Patrick's Church in the city in 2012.

The Young Conway Volunteers band caused outrage after it was filmed playing the sectarian Famine Song at the time.

However, the painting - which won a major prize at the annual Royal Ulster Academy (RUA) exhibition running in the Ulster Museum - sparked controversy over a small detail in one corner.

The Orange Order claims it shows members wearing white Ku Klux Klan (KKK) clothing in a "deliberate demonisation" of its cultural heritage.

The organisation is now seeking an urgent meeting with the museum.

"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," it said.

The TUV has written to the Ulster Museum demanding the painting be removed from display while the DUP is to meet with National Museums NI on Monday about the issue. The party described the Ku Klux Klan images as a "crude sectarian slur".

The Royal Ulster Academy defended the right of artists to "unfettered expression".

Denise Ferran, president of the RUA, said the organisation had placed a notice at the entrance of the exhibition stating "that some of the material may cause offence".

However, when asked if the RUA would be removing the piece of artwork, Ms Ferran said "absolutely not".

She said anyone viewing a painting had "the right to view that picture whatever way they like".

"I am dealing with the integrity of the artist and their freedom of expression," she said.

"That would be censorship. We are a body of artists that do cause controversy and if we didn't cause controversy, if we did not deal with controversial issues, then we would be moribund. We wouldn't be functioning as cutting edge artists. If we start to be coerced by one side of the political community or another, we just couldn't stand over it".

The RUA exhibition at the Ulster Museum runs until January 3.

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