ABOUT 80 people have held a peaceful prayer vigil outside a Brisbane university art gallery, in protest against a “blasphemous” artwork depicting the Virgin Mary cradling male genitalia.
A vigil organiser said the aim was “to bear public witness to our faith and devotion to our Blessed Mother, and to make public reparation to her immaculate Heart for this grave public offence”.
“The world must not run roughshod over us,” the organiser said.
The painting that has raised the err of church groups is a crude imitation of Michelangelo’s sculpture The Pieta, which features the body of Jesus Christ lying on the lap of the Virgin Mary.
The imitation work is called Holy Family, by the artist Juan Davila, and is part of the gallery’s The Abyss exhibition, that is due to run until the end of this month.
Griffith University said it had no plans to take down the artwork and released a statement on artistic freedom.
“Art exhibited at the museum can at times be confronting and challenging, but always thought-provoking,” Professor Scott Harrison said.
“Upon entry to the exhibition there are clear signs stating that the exhibition contains graphic content with nudity and depictions of violence.”
Brisbane Oratory in Formation’s Br Conor Power, who attended the prayer vigil, said the university should not be defending the painting on the grounds of “art for art’s sake”.
“Art is art when it lifts the mind and spirit,” Br Power said.
“When you are taking an image known to be treasured by hundreds of millions of people and then deliberately placing images of male genitalia in the hands of Our Lady … there is no reason to do that.
“I don’t think you can justify that as art for art’s sake or freedom of expression.
“There is a desire there, I think you can argue quite convincingly, that it is just to provoke people.”
Griffith University’s decision to showcase Holy Family has support from the arts community, but has been widely condemned by politicians, church leaders, religious groups and the public.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge labelled the university’s decision disappointing.
“I continue to hope that Griffith University’s Art Museum would choose to show the work of Queensland’s many brilliant artists rather than display work that sets out to shock as much as this one does,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“So much more and better is on offer.”
Members of parliament have also spoken out about the confronting painting.
“It is not for politicians to censor freedom of expression but this is clearly in very poor taste; it’s vulgar and would be deeply offensive to many Queenslanders,” Shadow Minister for the Arts Dr Christian Rowan said.
The Australian Christian Lobby said Griffith University had a moral obligation to the community because it was a publicly-funded institution.
“No one denies that we all have different views of what is acceptable or not in art,” ACL Queensland director Wendy Francis said.
“It can be explicit and challenging, but an image such as this, which humiliates and defiles one of the most famous women in history, does not belong in a public university.”
Br Power said holding a peaceful prayer vigil was an important sign of defending Christian values.
“If Christians don’t stand up in the public sphere and say ‘no, we don’t accept this’, then people will continue to do these things,” he said.
“The vigil was a way of saying ‘no’… and many of the people were there because they believe prayer to be more powerful than many other avenues available to them.”