Curating Hatred: The Joe McWilliams's Controversy at the Ulster Museum

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Since heritage is a manifestation of how the past is used in the present, engagement with heritage is a critical indicator of how contemporary hatreds play out, both feeding and feeding off traditions and legacies. Despite its ongoing peace process, Northern Ireland remains a site of dissonant heritages, where sectarian hatred continues to be expressed in societal divisions, often resulting in outright violence. This relationship between current expressions of hatred and the uses of the past present particular issues for heritage professionals. This essay examines a recent example in which these tensions have been made manifest, the inclusion of a painting by Belfast artist Joe McWilliams in the Annual Exhibition by the Royal Ulster Academy at the Ulster Museum in 2015. The painting depicts the performance by a Protestant Orange Order band outside a Roman Catholic Church in Belfast as part of the annual Twelfth of July celebrations. It included a small group of figures wearing white hoods, akin to the Klu Klux Klan’s, and Orange sashes. The controversy that the inclusion of this painting in the exhibition sparked illustrates the ways in which the artistic representation of a performed heritage challenges institutional practice in curating dissonance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-83
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Hate Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 11 May 2017


  • Heritage
  • museums
  • Ulster
  • dissonance
  • curatorship
  • hatred
  • offence


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