The artist behind a controversial work depicting terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden morphing into Jesus today invited those considering her work to look a little more deeply than the obvious comparison of good and evil.
Queensland artist Priscilla Bracks denied she had deliberately set out to be offensive.
“Absolutely not, no, no. I am not interested in being offensive. I am 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,” she said.
Bracks’ work and a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing an Islamic burqa by Sydney artist Luke Sullivan have been entered into Australia’s top religious art competition, the Blake Prize.
Both Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd have criticised their inclusion.
“The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians,” Mr Howard said.
Bracks welcomed the criticism.
“Well I suppose we always have an opinion on how they do their job. I am fine with the fact that they might have an opinion on how I do mine,” she said.
“But I just ask people to think about it a little bit more deeply because it is a very loaded work which means that there are so many different meanings.”
Prime Minister John Howard is leading a chorus of condemnation against the decision to include the Bracks and Sullivan artworks in the Blake Prize because they appear to ridicule the Christian faith.
Mr Howard said the pieces were insulting and lacked any artistic merit.
“The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians,” he said.
He was backed by Premier Morris Iemma, who said the inclusion of the artworks was extremely questionable.
“I haven’t seen either of these pieces but from what has been described to me, it’s a pity they were not stolen instead of the Dutch masterpiece,” Mr Iemma said, referring to the recent theft of a painting from the Art Gallery of NSW.
The artworks are the latest in a string of offensive pieces that have infuriated Christians while their creators hide behind the veil of “art”.
Last night, the creator of the bin Laden piece, Queensland lawyer Priscilla Bracks, defended her work.
Bracks told The Daily Telegraph her double portrait was not meant to compare Jesus with bin Laden, but was a commentary on the way the terror leader was treated in the media.
She was concerned bin Laden would be unintentionally glorified in years to come.
Describing him as a “common criminal”, Ms Bracks made the bizarre assertion that bin Laden – whose whereabouts are unknown – should be extradited and put on trial.
Sydney artist Luke Sullivan, who created the Virgin Mary piece entitled The Fourth Secret of Fatima, said his work was not meant to be controversial but provocative.
“It poses the question of what’s the future of religion,” Sullivan said.
“They (religions) are hegemonic in their nature.
“They can be all-encompassing and powerful.”
Joining Mr Howard and Mr Iemma in condemning the art was the Australian Christian Lobby, which 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,” ACL spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan said.
“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 questioned whether the artists would have been so bold in using icons of Islam.
The Uniting Church minister who chairs the Blake Society last night defended the pieces.
Reverend Rod Pattenden, who awarded the $15,000 prize to the competition winner in Sydney yesterday, said his mission was to spark debate about spirituality in a world that was “cynical, degraded and in crisis”.
Mr Pattenden said he 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,” Mr Pattenden said.
With The Daily Telegraph