Painting Depicting Christ as a 'Looney Tunes' Character Sparks Uproar in Sydney Art Contest

Christian protestors threatened to incite violence if the work wasn’t removed from the competition.

Artworks

A painting depicting Jesus Christ as a Looney Tunes character has caused uproar during an art competition in Sydney. Created by Australian artist Philjames, who is no stranger to subverting pop cultural iconography for shock responses, the composition mirrors the biblical tale of when Jesus spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem, comforting them as he bore the cross on his shoulders. But instead of sorrow and angst on the faces of his subjects, Philjames overlaid hysterical cartoon faces.

The 2023 oil painting was submitted to the Blake Art Prize exhibition at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, which recognizes works that reflect on religion and spirituality. After swarms of online criticism, however, organizers pulled Jesus Speaks to the Daughters of Jerusalem (2023) fearing “violence” from protestors, who claimed it was “another attack on Christianity.”

“I do like stirring a bit of a reaction with my work, but the novelty very quickly wore off on Friday. The level of vitriol and the sheer volume of it was actually frightening,” said Philjames. Ned Mannoun, mayor of Sydney’s Liverpool district, eventually requested the removal of the painting, adding: “The Christian Messiah and the Muslim Messiah Jesus has no connection to the cartoon character Goofy.”

While Philjames was eager to stop any violence from ensuing, he did find the mayor’s decision worrying, “putting politicking before freedom of expression,” he said. “Where does it end?”

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