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Exhibition defends painting of 'KKK Orangemen'

Joe McWilliams' painting Christian Flautists outside St Patrick's  
Marie Louise McConville

ORGANISERS of a prestigious art exhibition dismissed calls on Wednesday for an award-winning painting to be removed following claims it shows Orangemen in Ku Klux Klan clothing.

'Christian Flautists Outside St Patrick's', which was the last major work by Joe McWilliams before his death last month, depicts loyalist bandsmen marching in circles outside a Catholic church in Belfast 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 - has 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.

It said it 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.

"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.

“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."

The DUP said on Wednesday it would meet with National Museums NI on Monday, describing the Ku Klux Klan images as a "crude sectarian slur".

The TUV also said it had written to the museum demanding the acclaimed artist's painting be removed from display.

However, the Royal Ulster Academy rejected the call on Wednesday, insisting it "supports the right of its artists to unfettered expression".

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

"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 pipe band, is no basis for a request to have the painting removed from public exhibition."

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