Police Museum criticised for paintings of murdered women

Museum did not consult families of women depicted in paintings included in exhibition. Management cites concerns that families would set limits on their artistic freedom

Copenhagen’s Police Museum has attracted criticism for exhibiting portraits of 12 murdered women without first asking permission from their families. The museum’s administrators say they deliberately chose not to inform the families in order to protect their own freedom of speech.

Family members of the deceased women expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision to display the paintings in the exhibition ‘Kvindedrab in memoriam’ (Murdered women, a memorial).

“I was sad when I heard about it,” Lise Kajus Næblerød, whose daughter Cecilie was killed by an ex-boyfriend, told Berlingske newspaper. “If I were to go to the museum with her little brother and was suddenly confronted by a painting of her I think I would get upset. It is so personal and traumatic for us as a family.”

After complaints from several other families of victims portrayed in the exhibition, MPs from at least four different political parties across the political spectrum have expressed dissatisfaction with the museum’s decision.

“I think it would be a sensitive subject for the relatives of the victims,” Socialistisk Folkeparti legal spokesperson Karina Lorentzen Dehnhardt told Berlingske. “That’s why I think they should have at least asked the relatives if they objected to the exhibition. They should have been informed so that they would be prepared.”

Landsforeningen Hjælp Voldsofre, an advocacy group for crime victims, also argued it was wrong not to consult with the families.

“They say they want to remember the victims, but in my opinion they end up doing the opposite by not contacting their families,” association chair Henning Wollsen told the Ritzau news bureau.

MP Peter Skaarup (Dansk Folkeparti) also argued that including portraits of women who were murdered just recently was particularly insensitive.

“Their relatives and the public can still remember several of the cases,” Skaarup told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “There is no justification for holding an exhibit about murdered women so soon after. It’s a question of timing and this is bad timing.”

Despite the uproar, Frederik Strand, the museum’s curator, argued they were within their right to hang the paintings without first asking for permission from the families of the women.

“Our freedom of speech, and the opportunity to even have exhibitions, would be limited if relatives could interfere and prevent them going ahead,” Strand told Berlingske, adding that the exhibition was not intended to be morbid. “As [the women] are portrayed, I don’t see it as particularly unacceptable. It’s a very respectful exhibition.”

In a separate interview with Politiken newspaper, Strand explained the motivation for holding the exhibition was to honour the memories of the women.

“[The public] will see that we have a tendency to forget the victims in cases like these. We want to offer them an insight into their fates and lives and in that way draw them closer to the history of the police and law,” Strand said.

He added that it would be difficult for the museum to hold any sort of exhibition concerned with crime and the police that would not touch on a sensitive memory for someone.