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Boycott threat to ‘homophobic’ council in censorship row

Glasgow’s artistic and gay communities have fiercely rounded on the agency in charge of the city’s museums and galleries, branding its handling of a major exhibition on human rights issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as “homophobic”, “censorious”, and “underhanded and cowardly”.

Some artists have called for a boycott of the shOUT exhibition and removal of their works from the main space in the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), and have accused Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG) of issuing veiled threats that funding for future LGBT events would be pulled if they failed to remain silent.

The furore stems from the decision not to show two video works and a sound installation by the Spanish artist Dani Marti, pictured below, at GoMA on the topic of gay men’s health.

According to Bailie Liz Cameron, chair of CSG, in a letter to councillors, the reason Marti’s works were not allowed into GoMA was because one of the films, This is the Fire in Which We Burn, showed an HIV-positive young man being interviewed about his experiences as a prostitute, including “graphic descriptions of extreme sex acts”, and his use of the drug crystal meth.

CSG feared the section of the 70 minute film would be taken out of context. “Such misrepresentation could endanger its objective as a work of art and overshadow important issues regarding men’s health,” said Cameron.

Instead of showing the films at GoMA over a series of evenings as planned, it was proposed to move Marti’s works to the Tramway for an afternoon.

But artists, including Marti himself, have branded this move from a city centre venue to a smaller one on the city’s south side as an act of censorship. The decision has caused division within CSG and GoMA, but united the city’s gay community in condemnation.

“People are really getting together on this issue,” said author Zoe Strachan, who is due to give a talk as part of shOUT next month. “My first response was that if work was going to be censored, then I didn’t want to take part. But I still am because we need an open discussion around this.”

She added that CSG’s decision left her “upset that this could happen in my own city”, that it sends out a message that work by gay artists is “not valued in Glasgow”, and that she had no sympathy with CSG’s argument for not showing Marti’s work in the city centre.

“The curators are arts professionals. They must have had some inkling on the work they would have received,” said Strachan. “But it is also deeply patronising to say that the people of Glasgow have to be protected from art that might offend them, or that if they hear a verbal reference to crystal meth they will run out and take it. It shows a real lack of respect for the audience as well as for the artists involved.”

Travis Reeves is another artist whose work within shOUT has been moved from GoMA to Tramway.

He said that following the controversy around Made In God’s Image, an element of the shOUT programme that resulted in the Bible being defaced, there had been “an undercurrent” of rescheduling and moving.

GoMA is attempting to defuse the situation. It is now inviting artists to respond to the controversies that have dogged the exhibition.

Their responses will fill the space where Marti’s works were planned to be shown. But already there is resistance.

Steven Thompson, head of the Glasgay Festival, whose programming intersects with shOUT, encouraged artists to boycott the scheme. He said he had advised CSG on how to handle the marketing of shOUT, but his advice was “ignored completely”.

In her letter Cameron firmly denies any accusation of censorship, and says that decisions were taken on “artistic quality”.

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