Cathedral ban on sculptor's 'indecent' minotaurs: Sophie Ryder's latest work has fallen foul of church censors because of its 'too prominent' genitalia. Dalya Alberge reports

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AN ARTIST has had several sculptures banned from her exhibition in Winchester Cathedral because they are 'too contentious' and indecent for a place of worship.

Sophie Ryder was told that her five larger-than-life minotaurs in wire have been excluded because she had made their genitalia too prominent.

The minotaurs would have been erected outside the cathedral, on the lawn in the inner close. With or without them, the show of 10 sculptures will be opening on 28 April. Since graduating from the Royal Academy Schools in 1984, Miss Ryder has made her name by twisting, weaving and curving wire, bed springs and chains into animal and organic forms. Bodies and lines are moulded into shape and given a sense of movement with the seeming ease of an artist drawing lines.

Of the minotaurs she said: 'I was beginning to wonder whether they saw them as a pagan symbol. But they didn't. It was because of the genitalia . . .' Nor, she claimed, has anyone mentioned them in more than a decade of making such creatures, a recurring subject in her work. She said no one complained when she exhibited them in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, last year, in a touch-show for visually-impaired people.

Neither were there any complaints about her animals in Salisbury Cathedral in 1987, nor in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, among public collections in which she is represented.

Canon Keith Walker, of Winchester Cathedral, speaking on BBC Radio Solent, said: 'The corporate view was that it wouldn't be wise to include the minotaurs in the exhibition . . . In making a decision like this, one must take into account the feelings of the public.'

He mentioned the nude male figure of Dame Elisabeth Frink in Winchester high street, which had 'attracted a lot of attention'.

This is not the first case of its kind: in 1990, a nude sculpture was ejected from Lincoln Cathedral for causing offence; and in 1993, Chris Drury's abstract sculpture with a feature intended to resemble part of a woman's anatomy was banned from St James's Church, Piccadilly, central London. Miss Ryder's suggestion of covering the offending parts with fig-leafs did not go down too well. Although she felt they would not detract from the pieces, that they would fit the 'whimsical, fun nature' of the sculptures, Canon Walker said: 'It would have been a sad compromise.'

He added that although people are used to seeing the genitalia on stallions and dogs 'in an everyday context', they 'don't see human genitalia in an everyday context'.

(Photograph omitted)