Artworks depicting Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Christ-like pose and a statue of the Virgin Mary covered in a burqa have caused a stir in Australia after they were showcased in a prestigious religious art competition.
"The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians," Premier John Howard told Australia's Daily Telegraph on Thursday, August 30.
"Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross" by Priscilla Bracks is a "double vision" print that depicts both Jesus and bin Laden.
Luke Sullivan's "The Fourth Secret of Fatima" is a statue of Mary, her head and torso obscured by a blue burqa like what Afghan women wear.
The artworks were among more than 500 entries in the Blake Prize, Australia's top religious art competition, and have been included in an exhibition at the National Art School in Sydney.
Last Mod: 31 Ağustos 2007, 14:53
Howard said the pieces were insulting and lacked any artistic merit.
Opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd agreed.
"I accept you know people can have artistic freedom, but I find this painting off, off in the extreme. I understand how people would be offended by it."
Australia's 20 million population is overwhelmingly Christian and the print was condemned by the Australian Christian Lobby.
The Blake Prize of $15,000 has been awarded since 1951.
Why Not Islam
The Australian Christian Lobby said placing Jesus in the same piece as Osama bin Laden was "a big mistake".
"Jesus brought a message of love and forgiveness that has nothing to do with terrorism," said spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan.
"It's a concerning thing to Christians to have Jesus and Osama bin Laden as part of the one artwork.
"If the artist is trying to portray any similarity, that is a big mistake."
Ms Quinlan claimed artists would never be so bold in using icons of Islam.
The Swedish Nerikes Allehanda daily published this week a drawing by Swedish artist Lars Vilks depicting the head of a man described as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) on the body of a dog.
In September 2005, Denmark's mass-circulation daily Jyllands-Posten printed 12 cartoons including portrayals of a man the newspaper called Prophet Muhammad, wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women.
Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said the statue of Mary was inoffensive because it portrayed the Virgin in an appropriately modest item of apparel.
He said that Mary is revered by Muslims as "a mother figure to all of us''.
But he said Bracks had "ridiculed'' Jesus by pairing him with Bin Laden.
Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the great Prophets of God and that he is the son of Mary but not the Son of God. He was conceived and born miraculously.
In the Noble Qur'an, Jesus is called "Isa". He is also known as Al-Masih (the Christ) and Ibn Maryam (Son of Mary).
Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell criticized the controversial artworks.
"Some contemporary art is tedious and trivial. These works demonstrate this,'' he said.
"Regrettably, attempts to insult Jesus and Mary have become common in recent years, even predictable.
"Too often it seems that the only quality which makes something art is the adolescent desire to shock. If this is the best the Blake Prize can do, it has probably outlived its usefulness.''
But Reverend Rod Pattenden, the Uniting Church minister who chairs the Blake Society, disagreed.
He said the aim of the prize was to encourage discussion about spirituality in society -- the goal of both artists.
Pattenden did not expect controversy to result from the exhibition "because the Christian community doesn't look at art a great deal".
He said the Virgin statue embodied "iconic representations of two different religious traditions".
"He (Sullivan) is making a comment about gender in a religion dominated by men."
Sullivan also defended his work.
"It poses the question of what's the future of religion," he said.
"They (religions) are hegemonic in their nature. They can be all-encompassing and powerful."
Queensland artist Bracks, the creator of the Christ-like Osama, said she hoped some viewers might see this as a juxtaposition of good and evil.
"I'm interested in having a discussion, and asking questions about how we think about our world and what we accept, and what we don't accept."
Following the Danish cartoons crisis, Muslim scholars, priests and rabbis have called for a UN Security Council resolution criminalizing blasphemy.