Support our Nation today - please donate here
News

Award winning artist accuses National Museum of censorship

05 Jun 2024 6 minute read
David Garner’s billboard, part of The Valleys exhibition

Jon Gower

An award-winning Welsh artist has accused  the National Museums and Galleries of Wales of censorship by not showing one of his works in the lead-up to the UK General Election.

No Cajolery, an artwork by David Garner was meant to feature in a  new exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff called The Valleys. Garner had been commissioned to install a composite work made up of banners featuring political quotations, a large road sign as well as a billboard to be located offsite.

David Garner’s composite installation

Garner, a Welsh installation artist well known for his use of found objects and overtly political themes, says that his assemblage of work was included to provide a political element referencing the creation of the NHS and its architect Aneurin Bevan.

He therefore produced two trade union style banners of previously unseen press images of Bevan.

Sight

Weeping’ shows Bevan wiping his eyes before speaking at a 1957 Labour Party conference in Brighton. Garner interprets this as weeping at the current state of the NHS. Under the image is a tin bath of water representing and collecting Bevan’s tears.

‘Weeping’ by David Garner

The two banners, together with a newly commissioned work Unfinished, featuring a polemic monologue and a huge Keep Left road sign, are complemented by an offsite billboard sited in one of the post-industrial valleys, have been installed in time for the exhibition’s opening on the 25th of May.

No Cajolery by David Garner

The censored work, No Cajolery, comprises a metal sign, reminiscent of the sort of signs one sees in hospital. It features a quote by Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the National Health Service, which reads ‘Lower than Vermin’ and underneath is its Welsh language equivalent, Baw isa’r domen (the lowest shit in the pile), both accompanied by directional arrows pointing downwards.

It was to be sited over the lifts to the landing area to feature alongside Garner’s other works and would complete the installation.

Shock

David Garner, talking to Nation.Cymru, expressed his shock at the decision: ‘I never imagined Aneurin Bevan’s words being censored in Wales.’ He thinks it particularly ironic when the two curators, Nick Thornton and Bronwen Colquhoun, have selected a strong body of work that demonstrates the creativity coming from the Valleys.

Garner suggests that: ‘The decision not to include the work was made prior to the election being announced, but the up and coming election is now the main excuse being presented due to the period of purdah.

‘The Welsh Government discussed the issue on Friday the day before the exhibition opened and made the decision not to allow the work to be shown until after the General Election.

‘It was decided that No Cajolery risks breaching the impartiality rules by which the National Museum must abide, hence waiting until after the election. It therefore appears that the Welsh Government has the final say in the selection of contemporary art at the museums and galleries due to its funding arrangement.’

Curatorial decision

National Museums and Galleries Wales responded: ‘In January 2024 Amgueddfa Cymru commissioned David Garner to create a new piece for The Valleys exhibition. The work included 3 elements – all related to Aneurin Bevan. The artist had subsequently requested that a further piece Lower than vermin was included but this was rejected as a curatorial decision at the time as it was outside the original commission. During the installation of the exhibition, David Garner made it clear that he wished to have the work included.’

David Garner further suggests that No Cajolery was not rejected by either of the two curators of the show saying: ‘I was informed that the director of NMGWC had taken offence to No Cajolery. Firstly, it was suggested that the Welsh idiom would be offensive to Welsh speakers. I ran this by the poet Rhys Iorwerth who suggested it was a good comparison to Bevan’s quote and also gathered the opinions of other Welsh speakers. They thought it laughable that anyone would find it offensive, particularly in a contemporary art show.

Proposed siting of ‘No Cajolery’

‘It was further suggested that siting No Cajolery over the lifts in the space that I was allocated would cause offence to anyone using the lifts. Then finally the general election was announced and that became the reason. On no occasion was I allowed to be part of the decision process although I vehemently protested that I should.

‘If there was no intention of showing the work why allow me to deliver it with the other work. It was agreed that No Cajolery would complete the installation with a wrap around effect in the landing space with the effect of surrounding viewers in that area, and placing it over the lifts was reminiscent of signage found in NHS hospitals.

‘It is my belief that the curators were supportive but were told from above not to include it. The question still remains if it wasn’t appropriate before the election was called why is it appropriate after the election. Why are the Welsh Government interfering with curatorial decisions in a contemporary art space?

“Why do the senior staff at NMGWC feel the need to approach and consult the Welsh Government with regard to an art exhibition? There appears to be a sinister level of control by Welsh Government over the bodies it funds that completely overrides the arm’s-length principle. The words, ‘lower than vermin’ were used over seventy years ago by a revered Welsh politician, yet there is a need to censor them in his country of birth!’

The National Museums and Galleries Wales responded: ‘On the Thursday 23 May, prior to The Valleys opening on Saturday 25 May, the Prime Minister announced the UK general election. In light of this announcement, Amgueddfa Cymru presented proposals to Welsh Government, as public sector bodies must be, and seen to be, politically impartial.

“The proposals were noted and agreed. Amgueddfa Cymru then proceeded with the installation of the original commission as planned. The additional work, which was considered to be outside of the commission, will be installed following the UK General Election.’


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.