On August 29, 2007 the winner of the 2007 Blake Prize was announced. According to the Blake Prize website, “The Blake Prize for Religious Art is one of the more prestigious art prizes in Australia. For 55 years it has been awarding a prize for works of art that explore the subject of religious awareness and spirituality.” This year’s winner was Shirley Purdie and her piece “Stations of the Cross”. However, the winning piece isn’t what people are talking about.
“The Fourth Secret of Fatima” by Luke Sullivan and “Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross” by Priscilla Bracks are all anyone wants to discuss. “The Fourth Secret of Fatima” is a statue of Mary wearing a burqa and “Bearded Orientals” pairs a portrait of Christ with one of terrorist Osama bin Laden looking like Jesus. The inclusion of these two pieces are causing quite a stir in Australia. To see these pieces click here.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard was quoted in “The Daily Telegraph” saying, “The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians.” Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, has been quite vocal with his displeasure, “Some contemporary art is tedious and trivial. These couple of works demonstrate this. 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.” (I have to point out here, that obviously these two pieces weren’t “the best the Blake Prize can do” since a totally different piece won the $15,000 prize.)
Enough about the Catholics, what do Australian Muslims have to say about all this hooplah? Ikebal Patel, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils offers some unique perspectives. He is quoted in the “Sydney Morning Herald” saying, “So [Mary wearing a burqa is] no different to how our mothers and sisters are expected to be modest in their dressing.” He explains that the statue is not at all offensive because both the Virgin Mary and Jesus are revered figures in Islam. However, Patel was offended in many different ways by “Bearded Orientals”. “You have a revered prophet of Islam (that would be Jesus) being equated to somebody like Osama bin Laden. Also in Islam, we don’t have any paintings or drawings depicting any of our prophets, so I find it quite offensive,” he states.
Look at all this debate! The Anglican Bishop of south Sydney, Robert Forsyth, is quoted saying, “Is the one of Mary having a go at religions for oppressing women?” (My new friends at Roman Catholic Womenpriests, probably have something to say to that!) According to the “Washington Post”, Bracks (the artist who did “Bearded Orientals” told Australian radio, “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.” Reverend Pattenden, Blake Society Chairman, says neither of the two artists had set out to offend anyone, and he was not personally affronted, “They are both works which made me stop and think.”
Now I ask you this, isn’t that what art is all about?