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United Kingdom: London police ordered gallery to take down image

29 April 2012

An art work depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the swan was ordered by two London Metropolitan Police offiers to be removed because it allegedly ‘condoned bestiality’.

From 23 March to 21 April 2012 the London gallery Scream ran an exhibition with Derrick Santini, ‘Metamorphosis’, which consisted of two bodies of work, each displaying a vivid collection of images that convey the story of ‘Leda and the Swan’ and the old folk verse The Magpie’s Rhyme.

The subject of ‘Leda and the Swan’ has been addressed by many artists before, including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The gallery wrote on their home page:

“The intriguing myth of Zeus transforming into a swan and raping the human Leda, which produces the fatal beauty Helen of Troy is both violent, sensual and captivating. Whereas Leonardo and Michelangelo treated the subject with tenderness, with an emphasis on the ethereal and fecund beauty of Leda and the virility of Zeus as the swan; the imagery acts as a metaphor for the origins and manifestations of life, with subtle religious connotations of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, Santini’s imagery is lascivious, fantastical, contemporary and secular.”

Derrick Santini’s rendering of the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the swan was displayed in the gallery’s window. There were no complaints from the public, but the Metropolitan Police took a different view when they spotted Derrick Santini’s photograph of a naked woman being ravished by the bird.

An officer who saw the image alerted colleagues, and, according to an article in the Evening Standard, two uniformed officers from Harrow arrived at the gallery to demand the work be removed. The exhibition was finished and the gallery was already in the process of taking down the artworks when police arrived.

Jag Mehta, sales director at the gallery owned by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood’s sons Tyrone and Jamie, was quoted as saying: “We asked them what the problem was and they said it suggested we condoned bestiality, which they said was an arrestable offence. (…) They didn’t know anything about the myth. They stood there and didn’t leave until we took the piece down. They asked us whether we had had complaints and we said quite the contrary. Lots of people were intrigued by it.”

She admitted she did not know what they would have done, had the officers arrived before the exhibition was over.


Stripping the Illusion (blog) – 29 April 2012:
Objectification Culture Or Censoring Art?


Saskia Vogel (blog) – 28 April 2012:
Derrick Santini, Leda, the swan and the police


The Evening Standard – 27 April 2012:
Feathers fly at the police station over gallery’s ‘bestial’ Leda and the Swan


Scream London Gallery:
Derrick Santini: Metamorphosis


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