Menie: A portrait of a North East community in conflict

“…they walked beside the ocean of the end and the beginning”

- George Mackay Brown, 1994

The Issue

There has been much speculation and hyperbole in the news and media over the Menie Estate residents’ protest against Donald Trump’s planned golf course, most of it celebrating the rebellious ‘local hero’ who will not budge, the Scottish ‘David’ who stands tough in the face of an American ‘Goliath’, or, as Vanity Fair put it, the ‘thistle’ versus the ‘bee’ (May 2008). This exhibition does something different.

Alicia Bruce’s photographic portraiture retells the stories of the Menie residents, not to monumentalize or misrepresent them but in order to fix their message more securely in the cultural imagination. By restaging compositions from celebrated paintings (the majority of them in the permanent collection of the local Aberdeen Art Gallery), Bruce eloquently carves out the residents’ place in Scottish heritage. Without over-romanticizing, these photographs play on a history of national mythology. These families will not be intimidated, neither by far-away business nor next door construction site. They will not be bribed or bought out. Whatever side you stand on over this issue, their stance demands to be respected rather than patronized.

The source paintings were hand selected by the Menie residents. These paintings are all figurative, many of them portraits or pastoral images of workers in a Pre-Raphaelite or Glasgow Boys style. This choice of aesthetic has influenced Bruce’s photographic compositions, and helps ground her sitters squarely in their own landscape.

Text: Dr Catriona McAra, University of Glasgow. 2010