A painting has been banned from appearing in a Banbridge exhibition as it features a gay couple having sex.

The painting, by Ursula Burke, had been set to appear as part of the exhibition: ‘The Past is Unpredictable’, at the FE McWilliam Gallery from 31 May.

Banbridge council now faces accusations of attacking the freedom of artistic expression.

Noel Kelly, the Director of Visual Artists Ireland, said: “It is clear that galleries in NI have found ways to deliver on their child protection policies which all publicly funded spaces must have,

“Exhibitions can be clearly marked as to having content that parents may wish to control their children’s access to.

“Cases in point are the recent Kara Walker exhibition in The MAC which contained scenes of sexual intercourse in Walker’s shadow puppetry style, and the current exhibition by Alan Phelan in Golden Thread Gallery which contains scenes of extreme sexual practice in found video footage. Both exhibitions were open to the public with clear warnings.

“This type of action is a direct parallel with the attempts in Newtownabbey to cancel the performance of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Bible which led to outrage not only in the United Kingdom but also internationally.”

He continued: “Burke is known for her work exploring identity and representation. She has exhibited widely and considered one of the important artists of her generation in Northern Ireland.

“The image in question is one of a series of nine studies in the style of Arcadian landscapes that were prominent in the 17th and 18th Century. In primitive cultures right through to contemporary society the nude has a fetishistic role and has been used by artists such as Dürer, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rodin, Manet, and Poussin.”

On banning the painting, the council released a statement saying: “This decision has been taken on the basis that the artwork depicted a scene of a sexual nature which was deemed inappropriate for display to minors in a public gallery.

“The FE McWilliam Gallery prides itself as a family friendly facility and encourages visitors of all ages to visit and view exhibitions in a welcoming and comfortable environment.”