Controversial sculpture goes on display at VAN Gallery

An automated sculpture of a tiger and Queen Victoria, that National Trust bosses deemed too controversial for an exhibition at Powis Castle, has gone on display at the Visual Art Network Gallery in Shrewsbury Market Hall.

The sculpture by Pontesbury-based sculptor Bill Sample depicts a roaring tiger that has a startled and flailing Queen Victoria pinned to the ground.

The sculpture was originally planned as part of an exhibition at Powis Castle exploring the legacy of the British Empire. It is currently on show until the end of December at the Visual Art Network Gallery where it has proved a big hit with visitors.

The model is powered by seven electric motors that make the tiger roar, swish its tail and move its head while Queen Victoria flails her arms, wriggles her feet and swivels her eyes.

Mr Sample was inspired by a famous Indian automoton, ‘Tipu’s Tiger’, which was once once owned by Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, and is now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The original, showing a tiger mauling a Britsh Redcoat soldier, was looted from the Sultan’s palace by the army of the British East India Company during the siege of Seringapatam, southern India, in 1799.

Tipu, with his father before him, had fiercely resisted British colonial expansion for over 30 years. Such was his warrior-like reputation that he became known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ and the beast became his symbol.

But Tipu was killed in the siege, his kingdom fell, and the treasures of his palace were siezed by the British. His ceremonial tent, a gold tiger’s head from his thone and two of his cannon eventually made their way to Powis Castle where they are now on permanent display to visitors.

Mr Sample said his work was a mischevious update on the original with   Queen Victoria taking the place of the soldier in a symbolic act of revenge on behalf of Tipu for the fall of his kingdom.

“I was invited to exhibit at Powis Castle, along with other artists, and designed two pieces that I always planned to go together. The National Trust were happy with one, but not with the other. They were worrried that some people might get offended,” said Mr Sample.

“They felt it wasn’t suitable for display because Powis Castle had such a strong royalist association. I tried to emphasise that it was a comic take, but had a serious side as well.

“I thought that if I had been the Sultan, I too would have wanted to fight to defend my kingdom. The sculpture is a symbolic act of revenge for Tipu who lost his kingdom, but it is done in a humorous way.

“I didn’t expect them to to say ‘no, that’s a bit too much! I took it on the chin and am extremely happy that the Visual Art Network Gallery has put it on display in Shrewsbury.

“It seems to have been very well received. No-one has been offended or upset by it. People think it’s amusing but get the serious side too.”

Mr Sample now hopes his tiger will find a permanent home and he has put it up for sale for £1,200.

His automaton is made of wood and paper mache and uses a microprocessor to control seven electric motors to create the movements and an mp3 player to produce the tiger’s roar.

The original sculpture is carved from wood and painted. It moves by the turning of a handle that makes the tiger roar and the soldier wave a hand.

Mr Sample’s other exhibit ‘Tipu’s Tent Revisited’, an installation, was exhibited at Powis Castle as part of its exhibition in November.


Pete White Pete White

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