'Sodom' comes to Belfast and upsets Paisley

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The Independent Online
GILBERT AND George, the surrealist art duo, have hit back at the Rev Ian Paisley after their latest exhibition in Belfast was branded a work of "Sodom and Gomorrah" by Presbyterians demonstrators.

Mr Paisley as art critic is an image to conjure with. The idea of him crusading against Gilbert and George is a conflict to warm the heart of any lover of the absurd. Perhaps that's why the Ormeau Baths Gallery sent the reverend a luridly illustrated invitation last week.

George, tall, bespectacled and with an accent to shame the Queen, and his partner Gilbert, an excitable Belgian, have, in their own weird way, rebutted attacks from Mr Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church. Their show, which is part of a Belfast arts festival, includes images of nudity, excrement, urine and blood as well as a sprinkling of profane language.

After the provocative invitation, a minister in Mr Paisley's church, the Rev David McIlveen, arranged a picket on opening night. The assembled Presbyterians allegedly shouted "Sodom and Gomorrah" at the two artists as they went in.

"They shouted that because of our homosexuality," said George yesterday. "We said good evening and they refused to speak to us, and the curator invited them in but they refused."

Nevertheless, the two artists have issued a hand-written statement that showed more generosity to the pickets than might have been expected. "We more than understand the thoughts and feelings of the Free Presbyterians," said the two. "We, as Western artists, have the privilege of free speech and so do they. May the best man win."

However, George noted that the church has just 18,000 members and he expects more people than that to visit the Belfast exhibition. "We have a bigger congregation than them," he said.

The Presbyterians' anger at the art exhibition has been aggravated by the show's religious content. Between the magnified photographs of unspeakable bodily matter, the artists have placed Old Testament verses to underline their belief that the taboos they are breaking were created by Christianity.

"They are using sewage for the presentation of art," said Mr McIlveen. "In Northern Ireland we still have a puritanical approach and we need to make a distinction between what is pure and what is impure. It is our responsibility as churchmen to make that judgement."

Mr McIlveen's judgement probably wasn't softened by the artist's defence of the nudity in the show. "I told him to go to the Vatican," said George. "It is full of paintings of nudes."

A day out with Catholics and nude paintings - possibly the worst invitation the Mr Paisley's Church has ever received.