Prince Harry banner left out of Venice art exhibition

The British Council was anxious about the possibility of the banner being read as a provocation for attacks on British troops.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Venice Biennale: Prince Harry banner left out of Deller’s British pavilion” was written by Charlotte Higgins in Venice, for The Guardian on Thursday 30th May 2013 20.55 UTC

A banner and posters emblazoned with the words “Prince Harry Kills Me”, planned as part of artist Jeremy Deller’s British pavilion at the Venice Biennale, was left out of the exhibition at the behest of the British Council.

The council, which is partly funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and which oversees the UK’s involvement in the Venice Biennale, was anxious about the possibility of the banner being read as a provocation for attacks on British troops serving in Afghanistan or on British Council offices abroad. In 2011, gunmen stormed the council’s headquarters in Kabul, killing a dozen people.

Discussions took place between the British Council and the artist before the exhibition was installed in Venice, and an agreement was reached. The works remain in Deller’s studio in London.

“We asked Jeremy to reconsider the banner and poster … on the grounds that it could potentially be misconstrued in environments where the British army is currently deployed and perceived to be disrespectful of those who had lost their lives,” said a British Council spokesman.

“This was absolutely not Jeremy Deller’s intent but he agreed that, given this potential to be misunderstood, it would be better not to show these pieces.

“All parties felt that the exhibition maintains its integrity without these works. The obvious risk was that in less secure environments, where British troops and indeed the British Council are on the ground – most notably in Afghanistan, where Prince Harry has served – these works could have been used to justify violence or attacks.”

The banner’s text is a play on words. It might be read as suggesting that “Prince Harry makes me laugh”. Another reading might allude to the fact that in January the prince talked of his role as helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, saying: “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.”

The third inference relates to the shooting of two protected and endangered hen harriers over the Sandringham estate on a day when Prince Harry and a friend were the only two people known to be in the area with guns. The two were questioned by the police but said they had no knowledge of the incident, and no charges were brought.

Deller told the BBC Radio 4 programme Front Row that he was “absolutely” implicating Prince Harry in the Sandringham incident. “The poster and the banner you can interpret in a number of ways and people who love Prince Harry will probably love it,” he added.

“Depending on your position on the monarchy you could take it as Prince Harry is all right, or not … I’m not trying to close things down as an artist, but to open up things.”

He said he understood the British Council position: “They are under a very different pressure [to] me,” he said. “I’m actually quite happy about [the removal of the banner and posters]. “

The Sandringham incident forms a vital part of the narrative of the exhibition, which begins with a mural of a giant hen harrier clutching a Range Rover in its talons. The exhibition goes on to examine Britain’s role in recent wars, via a room of portraits by prison inmates of figures such as David Kelly and Tony Blair.

The missing banner, with its several layers of meaning, would have provided a conceptual link between the sections of the exhibition.

• This article was amended on 31 May 2013. The first paragraph of the original said the banner and posters “have been removed from the exhibition shortly before it was unveiled”. To clarify: the agreement to withdraw the banner and posters from the planned exhibition was made two months ago, before it was installed in Venice, and so they were never actually in the British pavilion building; they remain in Jeremy Deller’s studio in London. The headline was also amended to reflect this fact, and a paragraph added for further clarification.

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