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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Tate 'misunderstood' banned work
Latham's work aims to represent unity in religious belief.

Tate Britain "misunderstood" a piece of art it took out of a show to avoid religious offence, its creator said.

The gallery cancelled plans to display John Latham's God Is Great, concerned in particular that it could upset Muslims after London's 7 July bombings.

Latham was angered by the decision and said that the work, made 10 years ago, was "not offensive to anybody".

"It shows that all religious teaching comes from the same source, whatever name you give to it," he told BBC News.

God Is Great consists of a large sheet of glass and copies of the Koran, the Bible and Judaism's Talmud that have been cut apart.

The pieces are mounted on either side of the glass to make it appear that they are embedded in it. It was due to appear in the Tate's current British Art Displays exhibition.

The gallery said: "Having sought wide-ranging advice, Tate feels that to exhibit the work in London in the current sensitive climate, post 7 July, would not be appropriate."

Three of the four men suspected of carrying out the 7 July attacks, which killed 52 victims and the bombers, were young Pakistani Britons.

It is so easy for people to say I am prejudiced if they do not get a chance to examine the actual work
John Latham
All four suspects were Muslim. The attacks led to political debate on Islamic extremism in the UK.

Latham, 84, made his name in the 1960s as a member of London's avant garde movement.

God Is Great was part of a series of works previously displayed at Oxford's Museum of Modern Art, London's Lisson gallery and at the Venice Biennale.

"I have not had one single reasonable complaint about the piece," Latham said.

"One school in Oxford did not approve of it, but they simply decided not to take their pupils to the exhibition. The Tate Britain has not given people that option."

'No complaints'

He added: "My piece has been taken off the discussion board. I cannot express myself if it is not there."

Latham said the work was not "anti-Muslim" and said the decision to remove it from the show was taken "behind my back and behind the curator's back".

He added: "It is so easy for people to say I am prejudiced if they do not get a chance to examine the actual work."

The gallery responded: "The interpretation of the work is not being questioned here, it is the act of cutting the books which causes us concern in light of the particular environment post 7 July.

"The artist was informed of our decision not to show the work before the display opened last week."

The Muslim Council of Britain told the BBC News website: "We have not received any complaints about this piece of artwork.

"We would have preferred to have been consulted by Tate Britain before the decision was taken to remove John Latham's piece.

"Sometimes presumptions are incorrectly made about what is unacceptable to Muslims and this can be counter-productive."

Tate Britain plans to debate issues around the subject in a public forum on 8 November.

Other work by Latham includes a piece that involved burning copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and another that features Latham chewing up a volume of art criticism.

Do you think Tate Britain made the correct decision in removing John Latham's piece God Is Great?

Your comments:

It's simply another example of knee jerk over-reaction and excessive sensitivity. Nothing in the piece belittles or ridicules the religious texts or the beliefs they represent. It is truly pathetic that a piece of art that shows how religions are inter-related, and in the light of recent events could also be interpreted as symbolism of religions working together, is removed 'just in case' someone objects.
Nicholas Hogg, Copenhagen, Denmark

I think Tate Britain has made the right decision, albeit perhaps for the wrong reason. To make an art work which in some way attempts to symbolise unity between faiths is, in itself, laudable. My main objection to Latham's work would be that the destruction of books has a very negative symbolic value - it brings to mind the repression of dissidence by totalitarian regimes, most famously in the Nazi book-burnings. To destroy books intentionally for any ideological purpose, even if that purpose is artistic, is abhorrent, especially when the books are ones which, rightly or wrongly, have such powerful spiritual value to so many people.
Beth, Oxford, UK

This is not a rational decision but one based on fear
J Rogers, London UK
This is not a rational decision but one based on fear. Intelligent challenge to firmly held belief has been the foundation of human development throughout history.If we do not probe, explore and challenge our beliefs all we are left with is a decaying and mediocre state of consciousness.
J Rogers, London UK

People should take a harder look at the people who run our national cultural institutions I think they would be surprised at the make up and political motivations of these people. As a person in the industry I am constantly dismayed at the mind set and attitude of these "Leaders" when it comes to what to exhibit and who not to offend.
John, London

I couldn't care less if people are upset over a piece of art - they can simply avoid the piece of art concerned, whereas now nobody can go and see it. Now I'm upset - does that bestow any rights on me, or do I have to be suffering from religion to get those?
Alex Slater, London, UK

I think it's about time we stopped pussy-footing around the subject of Religion. Do we not live in a democracy anymore? Are we not entitled to express ourselves anymore? I have had enough of worrying about what we say and do when it comes to religions. Enough.
Momin Soliman, London/UK

I don't know how John Lathan can say the piece is "not offensive to anyone". He may not have intended to offend anyone, but as a Jew, I find it offensive that he should do it to a sacred text of any religion.
J Levy, London, UK

One of the most consistent aims of art over the centuries has been to challenge society and hold it up to scrutiny. It is therefore appropriate that religious belief which accounts for so much that has gone wrong with our society should similarly be held up to such scrutiny. It is shameful that Tate Britain has taken this stance. Art should be defended by artistic institutions NOT attacked in this way. This quasi-censorship aimed at alleviating religious sensibilities is sickening and cowardly. What next - the British Library burning books that may offend religious belief. A sad day for art and its institutions.
Tino, Newcastle

No, I do not agree with this decision. It is political correctness gone mad. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the 'People of the Book' and John Latham's 'God is Great' seems to me to emphasise what they have in common, which can only be a good thing in the present climate.
Mary Green, Leicester, UK

Tate Britain's decision reflects its consistent misunderstanding about the nature of art as well as its pervasive ignorance of any intellectual or philosophical position that exceeds the reflexes of political or commercial opportunism.
Kirk Hughey, Antony, France

It is very sad that we have to take the possibility of criminal action by religious fanatics into account when deciding on what to hang in a gallery. A truly free country would allow any form of art to be shown and everybody should respect the views and art of others. Once again, religion is responsible for affecting lives of those who are not gullible enough to be taken in by it.
Simon Shute, Kingston upon Thames UK

Here we go.. religious censorship restricting our basic rights of freedom of speech shame on you Tate
Andy, UK

As a mixed-race person who grew up in an extremely multi-cultural environment, I don't understand how this piece is more offensive to Muslims than it is to Jews or Christians. By objecting to it on Muslim, rather then religious grounds in general, the Tate is only promoting segregation rather than the acceptance of all religions on equal footing. How is this a good thing? This artwork made no comment on the current climate and from my interpretation, it just tried to highlight the similarity, rather than the differences in three major religious texts. By removing it, the gallery has done the exact opposite.
Debbie Timmins, London, UK

By its very nature all forms of art will upset someone in someway
Sue, Farnborough
Art is supposed to be thought provoking and challenging. By its very nature all forms of art will upset someone in someway. The 7/7 bombers were not sensitive to the religions of the people they murdered. This piece is not offensive to anyone.
Sue, Farnborough

An incorrect decision. Christian protests at works of art they may find offensive, particularly films, videos, books etc. are always ignored on the grounds of extending boundaries. Art agencies must be even-handed: either Muslims have to put up with the same sort of dismissal that Christians have suffered for years, or Christians must be heeded on similar issues.
Richard Adams, Burnley, Lancs

I wouldn't necessarily say they made the right decision, but they've made a play safe one. I don't see anything wrong with the piece myself; it's certainly not damning or controversial - though the more sensitive may do.
M Aziz, London, UK

This is an outrage against freedom of expression, and shows a remarkable lack of mature thought on the part of the museum authorities. I thought our national galleries exist for the precise purpose of having these crucial debates! In any case, the artwork itself surely expresses unity and stasis - not destruction. Would this not be a message welcomed by all believers?
Robert Sharp, Edinburgh, UK

The current obsession with 'not upsetting' the religious community gives the frankly offensive impression that the authorities believe they are all dangerous extremists. Treating Muslims or any other group with such sweeping fear and suspicion is surely a far greater insult to them than any work of 'art'.
Paul, Glasgow, Scotland

The artist says "It shows that all religious teaching comes from the same source, whatever name you give to it,", yet this piece is solely about the Abrahamic religions. This is NOT the sum total of ALL religious thinking, and I am quite disgusted that this narrow-minded attitude can be portrayed as anything but the bigotry it is. By effectively saying "the god of abraham is the only god", this work can be a cause of offence to Hindus, Sikhs, pagans, Confuscians, Janes, Buddhists and the devotees of many other religious schools of thought.
Jai Gomer, Cardiff, UK

Another winner for censorship by the minority. Art should be challenging and thought provoking and in this instance would seem to meet both criteria. It would seem to be yet another example where British tolerance etc is being eroded by political correctness, the fear of upsetting anyone. Just accept that you can't please all the people all the time.
Paul, Notts, England

I agree with Latham's comments. Tate Britain have shown a lack of sense, character and taste. By showing cowardice like this, they help the militants to claim victories which are not theirs. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Arthur South, Codicote, U.K.

It is unfortunate that art is being censored by religious fanatics who resort to terrorism. The tremendous campaign in London to show resilience and unity in response to 7/11 is undermined by this action. This country stands for freedom of speech and expression and to remove art because it offends a minority is to censor everything this country stands for.
Richard Thomas, Fleet, Hampshire

What a terrible and dangerous decision. I've seen more spine in a school of jellyfish. Of course this work might offend people: that's the point of art, to provoke thought and a variety of reaction, not simply play safe and win approval. Personally I don't like Latham's piece, but I subscribe to the thought attributed to Voltaire: 'I disagree with what you see, and I will defend to the death your right to say it.' The upshot is this decision is driven by fear and rewards violence, otherwise why was the work considered fit for public display until the July bombings?
Ben Felsenburg, London

The artwork doesn't target any one specific religion and its aim is to suggest unity; so actually it would be good to keep it on display. The rising tide of censorship post 9-11 and 7-7 is not helpful to anyone and makes religious tensions worse, not better.
Craig Waterworth, London, UK

Utter hypocrisy! One can only imagine the furore if The Tate had been told not to display the piece. Righteous condemnation of censorship etc. If it does offend anyone then they do not have to go to The Tate to see it - not that that would prevent the rants against it!
Henry Rooney, Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire

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