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Please note: RPS House is closed for our exhibition install. We will be open again from 10am on Friday 9th August 2024.

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Donald Trump and the quiet rebellion

Photographer Alicia Bruce’s portrait of a Scottish community that stood against the former US president

Susan Munro, Leyton Cottage, July 2010

“I love Scotland. One of the biggest problems I have in winning, I won’t be able to get back there so often.”

So said Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, whose adoration of Scotland is well documented. His mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, was born in the Outer Hebrides, giving her son a loose connection to the nation.

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The coastal defence where the photographer played as a child, now with construction underway, Balmedie Beach, 2010

While Trump first polarised global opinion during his campaign for the 2016 presidential, he had already caused a stir in Aberdeenshire with his controversial golf course the Trump International Golf Links. A coalition of community and environmental groups continue to oppose the course, which was built on 4,000-year-old sand dunes that were designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

As a child, photographer Alicia Bruce played on the huge sand dunes found in Menie and the nearby area. Now, as an adult, she has documented the lengthy battle that began with Trump’s purchase of the site on Menie Estate in 2006. Working in collaboration with the community of Menie, she has charted the destruction and division caused by the golf course. 

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Construction and damming of Blairton Burn, January 2013

“I make pictures collaboratively with communities for campaigns, publications and exhibitions,” says Bruce of her project. “[I was drawn to Menie] because everything I saw in the press in the early years seemed unbalanced and incredibly pro-Trump. The local press even had cut-out posters and encouraged their readers to display them. The posters said ‘Stuff the council neeps! We support Trump!’ and had the faces of the Aberdeenshire councillors who rejected Trump’s plans photoshopped onto turnips.” 

Since then, the tide has largely turned. Even in 2010, before the course opened, a poll suggested close to two-thirds of the Scottish population opposed the development. While it did eventually open in 2012, the furore has hardly settled down. The local community continues to protest the golf course and the damage it has caused to the sand dunes. 

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Moira Milne, Hermit Point, 19 August 2010

Parts of the dunes lost their SSSI status in 2020, as explained by NatureScot 

“There is now no longer a reason to protect the dunes at Menie as they do not include enough of the special, natural features for which they were designated,” states Eileen Stuart, NatureScot’s Interim Director of Nature and Climate Change.  

“Trump International Golf Links Scotland have undertaken to deliver nature conservation management on the golf course, and we value the work they have done to protect the remaining rare habitats and the rare plants on their site, however they no longer have sufficient scientific interest to merit special protection.” 

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Mike and Sheila Forbes, Mill of Menie, 15 August 2010

Bruce says, “Believe it or not, I was laughed at a lot when I first started this body of work with folk saying, ‘Just let the man build his golf course’ and other utterances repeated from the pro-Trump press fanfare at the time. [The project has taken] years and years. Blood, sweat and lots of tears.” 

Menie residents, including Mike and Sheila Forbes, were photographed by Bruce in poses similar to those of historic paintings, as seen in the photobook I Burn But I Am Not Consumed. This also includes newspaper clippings, maps, exchanges between Trump and the Scottish Government, and essays from contributors including broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, singer Karine Polwart, and Louise Pearson, a photography curator at National Galleries of Scotland. 

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Kym Swindells, 17 July 2022

Pearson says, “The residents of Menie aren’t celebrities but they deserve to be known. What started as a personal battle to protect their homes and community came to symbolise a much bigger struggle against a bully who operated in a global playground. Their fight made headlines and they became harder to ignore. 

“Alicia Bruce’s photographs give that fight longevity. Newspaper headlines pass, but their story is preserved. Mike, Sheila and Molly Forbes have become part of our national narrative. Their portraits were acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2011 and have been displayed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery alongside – and with equal importance to – notable Scots including Robert Burns, Annie Lennox and Mary, Queen of Scots. Future residents of Menie will know how they fought for their corner of the Scottish coast.”

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Gateway to Trump International Scotland, Menie Estate, Aberdeenshire

Bruce couldn’t agree more: her book is a tribute to those who fought against the development. “I hope that it will stand as a testament to the remarkable residents of Menie and how they stood dignified in the face of bullying and belittlement,” she says. “They cared for the environment, their homes and each other which is something a person motivated by money and fame would never understand. I hope that it helps change the minds of some Trump supporters when it comes to voting in the next election.” 

 

All photographs by Alicia Bruce from I Burn But I Am Not Consumed, published by Daylight Books.  

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