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Gallery defends criticism of pig nursing infants art

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Gallery defends criticism of pig nursing infants art thumbnail The ‘Romulus and Seamus’ sculpture by Belfast-born artist John Kindness is raising some eyebrows outside the FE McWilliam, Banbridge.

THE curator of a Banbridge art gallery has defended a sculpture where two naked babies are suckling from a sow.

It comes as a local mother who recently visited the gallery with her young child was surprised by the prominence of the artwork.

Located at the entrance of the F.E McWilliam Gallery, the sculpture entitled 'Romulus and Seamus' is the work of acclaimed Belfast-born artist John Kindness.

The local mother said: "This art is certainly provocative. I am not against the art per se, however, I do feel it should be in a less prominent position within the F.E McWilliam Gallery grounds. It is right at the entrance and I faced some tricky questions from my toddler who wanted to know just what the babies were doing." She said she didn't know how to explain that scene of infants suckling from a pig to a three-year-old.

"I think viewing this art should be an informed choice, it shouldn't be right at the entrance. It's lurid and I was shocked by it. I looked around for some information to find out just what it was all about but couldn't find anything.

"Families are being encouraged to visit the gallery but I don't think this is setting the right tone. I would suggest that it should be relocated, on the grounds of taste and decency," the mother added.

Responding to the mother's remarks, Riann Coulter, gallery curator, said the sculpture is a "playful piece" and it was previously displayed in several locations including Ballynahinch Market House, The Old Town Hall, Banbridge and Down County Museum.

Riann said: "We like people coming to the gallery to talk about the art and debate it too.

"I think it's great that people are engaging over this piece and I would encourage people to come in and talk about it and we have great gallery guides who are really keen to explain what the art is about.

"This particular piece of artwork would be very popular with the kids and they do come up and pat it and because it is a sturdy structure it can't be damaged," she said.

Riann said she expects the sculpture will move again at a later date to a different place within the gallery or loaned to another museum.

Romulus and Seamus was originally commissioned by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2012 and in this sculpture Kindness has taken the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus and given it an Irish twist.

A text panel explaining the origins of the sculpture is currently in the process of being made to sit alongside Romulus and Seamus at the FE McWilliam Gallery.

Riann continued: "In the original story Romulus and Remus, twin boys said to be the offspring of the God Mars and Rhea Silvia, were condemned to death in the River Tiber after Rhea Silvia's brother seized power.

"The twins were miraculously washed to safety by the river and are said to have been suckled by a she-wolf.

A shepherd discovered the children and brought them up to live as shepherds.

"Romulus and Remus lived simple lives unaware of their unconventional beginnings but displayed tremendous leadership qualities and acquired many followers .

"Upon discovering the truth about their roots, they seized back power from their uncle and went on to found Rome as we know it." Riann says the iconic image of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the wolf is visible on many ancient public buildings in Rome and has become a symbol for the city itself.

"Romulus and Seamus are nourished by a sow rather than a wolf which perhaps hints at our island's dependence on agriculture but can also be interpreted as a reference to the historical metaphor of Ireland as a sow who devours her young.

"This image is rooted in the idea that generations of conflict over differing concepts of the nation have had a tragic impact on society, " she added.

Riann says the figures of Romulus and Seamus are coloured reddish orange and green which can be seen to represent the two predominant communities in Northern Ireland.

According to Riann, the work of Kindness is often deliberately playful which is reflected in Romulus and Seamus.

"The sow is made from a reclaimed pink bathroom suite which has been broken up into smaller mosaic pieces.

"Kindness has chosen to include fragments with the 'Armitage Shanks' logo which shows both his sense of humour and his deliberate decision to use everyday materials not usually associated with art," she added.

Kindness' work spans a range of media including painting and sculpture and his best known work is The Big Fish which has become an iconic presence on Donegal Quay in Belfast.

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