Oxford

Woke Oxford City Council to Sell Off ‘Inappropriate’ Artworks?

24 April 2023

2.8 MINS

Are we supposed to junk great works of art because they offend contemporary sensibilities?

Paintings depicting biblical stories and Roman myths which are currently displayed in the Town Hall of Oxford, the historic city outside of London, may be sold off to fund the purchase of more “diverse” and “progressive” artworks, The Telegraph has reported.

Among classical works on the chopping block are “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” by Italian artist Guido Reni (1575–1642) and another by Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669) depicting the legendary “Rape of the Sabines”. The Council is also thinking of disposing of a sculpture of a fox hunt which is currently in storage.

Reni, Guido; Salome with the Head of John the Baptist; Oxford City Council: http://www.artuk.org/artworks/salome-with-the-head-of-john-the-baptist-43510

The City Council is yet to discuss and decide on the recently-submitted motion, which reads:

“Within Oxford City Council’s art collection there are several items that are of no practical value to the city, do not have a clear link to Oxford, and depict themes that are inappropriate for a progressive public body that wants to lead by example: namely animal cruelty and gender-based violence.”

The motion adds that too few of the artworks displayed in the 120-year-old town hall feature women, and that the collection does not “represent Oxford’s ethnic diversity”.

According to Summertown Liberal Democrat councillor Katherine Miles, who brought the motion, the funds raised by selling the classical works — estimated to be worth £284,000 in total — could be used to acquire new art to “balance out” the portraits of white men.

The Telegraph reports that “research by the council has found that there are 115 paintings or other artworks on display, including 45 portraits, with 37 of these depicting men, three depicting women, and two depicting both men and women”.

The Oxford City Council has already established its woke bona fides by creating an “Anti-Racism Charter” following the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots and by defending the controversial Drag Queen Story Hour events taking place in its libraries.

These developments in Oxford – at the heart of British academe — highlight stark differences between the Western and woke world views. If they are actually interested in anything beyond virtue signalling, how to treat these treasures should present the city’s councillors with profoundly important questions.

By erasing “inappropriate” chapters of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian history, won’t the Council be contributing to a whitewashing of Western history that leaves only its more palatable features intact?

After all, what is depicted in paintings like John the Baptist’s beheading, an incident in the Gospels, and the abduction of the Sabine women, a chapter in Livy’s history, is not a glorification but a critique of the foibles of human nature and the darker corners of our culture. Erase these, and all that remains are the West’s triumphs and heroes.

Isn’t the aim of wokery the exact opposite — to expose Western corruption?

Indeed, the debate to take place in Oxford ought to provide the wokerati with a perfect opportunity for self-reflection. In their single-minded pursuit of social and historical purity (not too dissimilar from the Khmer Rouge notion of Year Zero), are they not undermining their own cause?

“The Rape of the Sabine Women” is a vivid acknowledgement of the ruthless patriarchy of the early Romans. Salome holding John’s bloody head on a platter is an icon of female empowerment.

A deeper question for reflection — though one unlikely to be asked by Oxford’s politicians — is this: if all cultures hide their crimes in the shadows, where are the shadows in woke culture? And how will future generations remember its own moments of darkness and cruelty?

Dividing people into identity groups based on superficial traits like skin colour is unlikely to impress generations to come. Sexualising young children with men painted and prancing like garish, promiscuous women might be fashionable today — but in a more refined future it will seem barbaric.

Even more so the genital mutilation of minors!

If the villainies of woke campaigners are ever depicted in art, be sure that their disgusted heirs will face the same moral dilemma as Oxford City Council does today. Hopefully, though, they will keep them on display as uncomfortable reminders of this dark chapter in Western history.

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Originally published at MercatorNet. Photo by Tony Hisgett/Wikimedia Commons.

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One Comment

  1. Ian Moncrieff. 24 April 2023 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    “Oxford, ….. a progressive public body that wants to lead by example: namely animal cruelty and gender-based violence.”
    Whilst animal cruelty and gender-bases violence (however minimal) have importance, they are hardly items that a City Council would be long remembered for. How about homelessness?

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