Virgin Mary painting ‘Holy Family’ sparks outrage

A "VULGAR", obscene painting depicting the Virgin Mary cradling a giant penis on public display at a Queensland university has sparked outrage from religious groups and leaders, who want it removed.

Artist Juan Davila's confronting painting Holy Family is on show at the Griffith University Art Museum until the end of the month, in a rare public airing of the lewd piece, which is usually tucked away in a Brisbane art collector's home.

The artwork is crudely based on Michelangelo's sculpture The Pieta, which is housed at St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City and depicts the body of Jesus Christ on the Virgin Mary's lap after the Crucifixion.

The state's highest-ranking Catholic, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said that it was "disappointing" the piece was included in an exhibition titled The Abyss at one of Queensland's biggest universities, which received almost $300 million in ­government grants and funding last year.


Censored version of Holy Family painting
Censored version of Holy Family painting


The powerful Australian Christian Lobby called for its immediate ­removal.

"As a publicly funded institution, Griffith has a moral obligation to the community they serve," ACL Queensland director Wendy Francis said.

"No one denies that we all have different views of what is acceptable or not in art. 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.

"It is not worthy of one of our nation's top universities."

Holy Family artist Juan Davila is a Chilean Australian in his 70s and known for confronting erotic art.

The controversy over his work is reminiscent of the furore sparked by the display at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997 of American artist and photographer Andrew Serrano's work Piss Christ, which depicted a crucifix submerged in a glass tank of the artist's urine.

Archbishop Coleridge was disappointed Griffith University would showcase a work such as Holy Family.

"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 a work that sets out to shock as this one does," he said.

"So much more and better is on offer."

State Opposition arts spokesman Dr Christian Rowan said it was not for politicians to censor freedom of expression, but Holy Family was clearly in very poor taste.

"It's vulgar and would be deeply offensive to many Queenslanders," he said.

Senator Matt Canavan, a devout Catholic, said it appeared to be a failed attempt to shock people.

"I know they're trying to be edgy, but they're about two decades too late. It's all pretty ho-hum and sad," he said.

"If they really want to shock the modern eye, I suggest they display a painting of the actual Crucifixion."


Opposition arts spokesman Dr Christian Rowan
Opposition arts spokesman Dr Christian Rowan



Griffith University Art Museum director Angela Goddard
Griffith University Art Museum director Angela Goddard

Griffith University Art Museum director Angela Goddard defended the work, pointing out there were signs upon entry to the exhibition warning it contained graphic content.

"The role of art is to challenge and push boundaries, with the freedom of artistic expression central to that mission," Ms Goddard said.

"Griffith University Art Museum understands there are some pieces of art in The Abyss exhibition which the public may find confronting."

The work is part of a collection of erotic art owned by Brisbane solicitor Alex Mackay and his wife Kitty.

It was loaned to the ­Griffith University Art Museum and has rarely been seen in public.

Kitty Mackay said the Melbourne-based artist's work was included in many major museum collections.

"Public institutions around Australian collect his work, and basically pornography or obscenity is in the eye of the beholder as far as I'm concerned," Ms Mackay said.

"The quality of the work is good, and the public should be allowed to see it if they want to."