Art judge steps down over an offensive Jesus painting
“Only women bleed” is the inscription underneath an unorthodoxly graphic image of Jesus Christ submitted by Adam Cullen for the Blake Prize for Religious Art in Australia. The artist claims his submission was inspired by the early Christian paintings, but Christopher Allen, one of the competition’s judges, is not buying it and resigns over the controversial entry. While the image might appear offensive to some Christians (as it does to me), the organizers of the Blake Prize contest argue that they encourage all takes on religion and will not ban the work of Adam Cullen from the competition, even if it means losing one of their judges.
Dr Allen's decision has thrown the competition into turmoil again, coming a year after organisers faced a similar controversy over a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing a burqa and a hologram of Christ morphing into Osama bin Laden. Those two exhibits incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church and the then prime minister John Howard, who labelled the works "gratuitously offensive".
The organisers of the Blake Prize insisted it was important to include a variety of styles. Rod Pattenden, chairman of the competition, said: "We respect Dr Allen's strength of feeling about Adam Cullen's work, which is based in a deep appreciation of beauty in art. The Blake Prize however, embraces diversity in its entries and it is important to us that we remain open to the many styles through which artists engage with the subject area."
Cullen's painting, titled Corpus Christi, is a triptych inspired by early Christian art. It is painted with acrylic and enamel on canvas. The inscription, "Only Woman Bleed", is based on a line from a song by Alice Cooper.
So while depicting religious figures is a big test of skill and challenge of vision for any artist, they have to constantly walk on the brink of freedom of expression and religious offence, making competitions such as the Blake Prize an important experimental art ground.