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Councillor wants republican artwork pulled from local exhibit

Fine Gael councillor Mark Cooney has proposed that Shane Cullen’s ‘Fragments sur les Institutions Républicaines IV’ be removed from a council-owned art gallery in Athlone.

The artwork in question replicates the text of messages smuggled out of HM Maze Prison (pictured) by hunger strikers in 1981.
The artwork in question replicates the text of messages smuggled out of HM Maze Prison (pictured) by hunger strikers in 1981.
Image: Geograph.ie via Creative Commons

DISPUTES HAVE ARISEN in Athlone over a councillor’s request that an artwork featuring excerpts from letters to and from Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison be removed from an exhibit in the town.

‘Fragments sur les Institutions Républicaines IV’, an installation by Shane Cullen, features 32 ‘comms’ – written and often brief messages – that were smuggled in and out of the H Blocks where Republican prisoners were being housed in 1981 at the time of the hunger strikes.

The piece has previously been exhibited at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and is currently on show at Athlone’s new Luan Gallery of contemporary art which opened six weeks ago.

A motion before this evening’s meeting of Athlone Town Council, however, requests that the artwork be removed.

The motion has been proposed by Fine Gael councillor Mark Cooney, and asks Athlone Art Heritage Ltd – the company behind the gallery, which is owned by the council – to remove Cullen’s work “as it is offensive to so many people”.

Cooney’s proposal had has been criticised by Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hogan, who said it was an attempt to censor history.

“Facing up to the legacy of our country’s history is a responsibility we all share, no matter how uncomfortable some aspects may be for some people,” the SF councillor said in a statement. ”Censoring history is never the way forward.

“Any attempt to remove Shane Cullen’s work will irreparably damage the reputation of the Luan Gallery. Other artists opposed to censorship in the arts will not want to exhibit here.”

Shane Cullen is known for his work dealing with republicanism and the Northern Ireland conflict; another of his best-known works, ‘The Agreement’, includes the entire 11,500-word text of the Good Friday Agreement, presented in a 55-panel sculpture.

Mark Cooney is the son of former Fine Gael justice minister Paddy Cooney, who was reported by Sinn Féin’s ‘An Phoblacht’ newspaper to have struck one of the panels with his crutch and demanded that it be removed from the gallery when attending the gallery’s opening in late November.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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