A wedding day has been soured after a photograph of the bridal party caused an online furore.
The image of five men in tuxedos and seven women in white dresses has since gone viral, but it’s what’s hanging on the wall behind them that has caused outrage.
Redleaf, a country retreat in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, sparked controversy after posting the image to its Instagram account with many accusing the venue of displaying artwork that depicts the massacre of Indigenous people.
Venue explains picture and apologises
Redleaf has since issued a public apology and confirmed that the artwork, which actually shows the Portuguese colonisation of Brazil, has been taken down in the wake of the backlash. The venue, which describes itself as a “magnificent country retreat” three kilometres out of Wollombi, says the picture is part of a wallpaper called ‘Views of Brazil’ from 1829, designed by Jean-Julien Delti, an artist hired by the Zuber Manufacturer in France in the 19th century.
“The manufacturer still produces this wallpaper, using the original images by the traveller-artist Johann Mortiz Rugendas,” Redleaf added. “Three panels on display were given to the owner of Redleaf, via a close family friend who died several years ago. These panels form part of a larger landscape of 30 panels.”
The venue went on to explain that when the Art Gallery of NSW, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Australia Canberra, held an exhibition of similar works, John McPhee, an art historian, said that he was “touched” to see artists in 1829 were aware of the bad influence of European civilisation of different cultures.
Social media outcry
Online observers slammed Redleaf for its “disgusting” artwork.
“Nothing like getting married and posing in front of Aboriginal people being slaughtered by colonisers,” Dreamtime Aroha, an Indigenous business, wrote online.
“Woah, this is so messed up,” added someone else.
“We are deeply sorry that we have caused any offence in relation to paintings on display at Redleaf,” the venue said in a statement on its Instagram account. “We never intended to upset anybody and we have now removed the paintings… We are very remorseful that we have caused anyone to feel pain on seeing the paintings; this was never our intention.”
“We keep a full transcript of John McPhee’s article on display beside this wallpaper, along with an image of the full 30 panels,” Redleaf wrote. “This is a deliberate effort by Redleaf to ensure that anyone viewing the painting has a full understanding of the context of the three panels, along with this negative history.”
The retreat in the Hunter Valley, which has also removed its initial post of the painting on Instagram, added that it has many artworks throughout the property including art by First Nations artists.
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In its apology, Redleaf urged “any comments towards clients (brides, grooms) and other suppliers (including photographers) [to] stop immediately.”
“Any inference that they have someone deliberately been racist is simply not true,” it said.
Users divided over apology
Social media remained divided over Redleaf’s apology.
“The whole thing is just them dodging any form of accountability under the guise ‘but it’s art’,” one person wrote. “Not even an apology, just a bunch of excuses and an attempt to provide context to mask the issue of why they felt it was appropriate to display that in the first place,” added another. While some felt that an apology wasn’t necessary. “Sorry you guys were bullied into taking artwork down,” one user said.