Gallery removes poster after ‘bestiality’ complaint

Oakville Galleries Large1

Does this poster say bestiality to you?  It did to the man who complained, called police and caused the public gallery in Oakville, Ontario to replace the poster.  John Kay said he was offended by the promotion for work by celebrated artists Shary Boyle and Emily Vey Duke, who spent 10 years creating a suite of visionary drawings and texts that illustrate a world of violence, fantasy and feeling. (Poster photos, Graham Paine – Oakville Beaver)


“I was just shocked . . . I looked up and thought, ‘Am I seeing what I’m seeing? That’s bestiality’. I thought I actually need to do something about this,” Kay told the Oakville Beaver, the newspaper in this lakefront town just west of Toronto. “The fact that . . .  kids could see it if they were taking a look . . . that’s what concerned me.”

In fact, he was so concerned he contacted police, who viewed the exhibit, deemed that the case involved “a point of artistic merit,” and closed the investigation.

Illuminations Project-Shary Boyle – Angel Trumpet, Flowers of Death

Shary Boyle, who represented Canada with her project Music for Silence at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, said this was not an issue she felt pressed to protest.

“If a member of the public is uncomfortable with a sexual image in a common area, I support their voicing it and am happy to exchange the image with something less provocative,” she said in an email. “I believe the public has a right to express their boundaries, and I enjoy engaging in that conversation and finding a creative compromise.”

Bloodie -Shary Boyle, Bloodie Writes an Anthem

Matthew Hyland, director of the Oakville Galleries, said a staff discussion led to the image used in the promotional poster, which was taken down Tuesday.

“The drawing in question is culled from a larger body of work on a fantastical narrative. It’s dream-like in nature. It shows a lagoon where humans and animals are frolicking together in the buff,” Hyland said, noting that while the image was “indeed suggestive, it was never our intention for it to cause any upset.”

The project loosely charts the journey of a character named Bloodie, a young girl who travels across fantastical lands populated by all manner of creatures — human, animal and otherwise — including fellow traveller Peg-Leg and his gang of Wild Boys.

Installation viewInstallation View – The Illuminations Project

The collaboration between the two artists was a call-and-answer exchange. Vey Duke would send a text to Boyle who would then produce a drawing in reply. She would keep that initial drawing, produce a second and send that back to Vey Duke, who then would write two texts, keeping one and sending the other. The process continued through 31 exchanges, which would eventually produce the final exhibit.

Read a review of the exhibition in The Toronto Star, here.

2 replies »

  1. My first thought was to protest the removal of the poster – it’s art, it’s weird maybe, but get over it. But once I read the artist’s response, I thought she had a better attitude than I. I appreciate her take on it.


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