A painting of a prominent lawyer hanging in the University of Tasmania’s Law School has been taken down after complaints by students and a staff member.
- The painting depicts late Tasmanian lawyer John Kable QC
- The artist says the female figure in the painting represents vulnerability of witnesses in court
- Students who have raised concerns say despite the intention, perception of the painting have been “overwhelmingly negative”
The painting, by artist Margaret Dockray, depicts late Tasmanian lawyer John Kable QC with his arms folded as a naked woman crouches in the corner of the frame.
It was gifted to the university by Mr Kable’s mother after his sudden death in 1995.
She also established a scholarship in her son’s name.
The university said the decision was made to remove the painting for the time being after concerns were raised by several Law School students, two PhD students and one staff member.
In a joint statement, the law students said the painting was “symbolic of archaic attitudes in the legal profession”.
“The description beside the portrait states that the piece depicts the awesome power of John Kable in stripping back his witness in cross-examination,” the students said.
“However, student perceptions of this artwork are overwhelmingly negative.
The students said they had “no desire to disrespect John Kable or his loved ones and wish for alternative ways to honour his memory”.
Artist says female figure depicts ‘vulnerability’
Dockray said she used her friend Mr Kable as a model for the painting, which depicted “the often awesome responsibility of counsel in exposing witnesses and leaving them totally vulnerable”.
“I wanted to show the power difference between people who are comfortable and trained and gifted in their own environment and people who are brought in,” she said.
The artist said she felt sad the painting was being removed.
“If it’s going to sit in a back room somewhere I would make an application to have it returned to me,” she said.
The painting has attracted questions in the past.
“It was displayed in a couple of public exhibitions here in Launceston and people were always really struck by the power of the painting itself, even if they didn’t understand the theme,” Ms Dockray said.
“There was a bit of confusion. People would say to me, ‘That’s a painting about rape or about dominance of women,’ and I would say, ‘No, it’s actually not about that at all.’
“So it doesn’t surprise me there’s been complaints, but I am really disappointed and I don’t agree.”
Greg Barns from the Australian Lawyers Alliance said he was concerned the removal of the painting from its original position amounted to censorship.
“One can understand that some people might find it confronting, some people may not like it for other reasons, but you don’t remove works of art on that basis,” he said.
“You’ve got to make sure there’s a balance here between freedom of speech, freedom of expression on the one hand and on the other hand taking into account those who have sensitivities — and I’m not using that word pejoratively — but sensitivities around particular artworks.
“We need to be very careful that we don’t get into the world of art censorship.”
UTAS says painting will be ‘relocated’
A UTAS spokesperson said the decision to remove the painting was made after a recent meeting of Law School staff.
“The strong consensus was that the painting be taken down from immediately outside the main law lecture theatre,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The Law School will seek advice from the committee that oversees the John Kable Memorial Tasmania University Scholarship in Law about relocating the painting.
“The school is proud of its association with John Kable QC and his significant contribution will continue to be honoured.”