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Sr. Editor

Full disclosure: anything former mayor Rudy Giuliani calls “sick,” I am probably going to like.

Chris Ofili’s painting The Holy Virgin Mary is no exception. But the work sure caused an uproar at the 1999 exhibition "Sensation" held at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Christian groups ardently protested the piece because the composition included hunks of dried elephant dung and Mary is surrounded collage cutouts of naked ladies from porno magazines. Here I was thinking New Yorkers were jaded and have seen it all, but add religion into the mix and people tend to get touchy.

Religious controversies also tend to bring out the crazies. One man is arrested for chucking manure at the walls outside the museum while screaming, "I’m expressing myself creatively!" Another commits the more serious crime of vandalism, actually defacing the painting by squirting and smearing white paint over the canvas. The art world was disappointed when he was charged quite leniently, only forced to pay a $250 fine.

The irony here is that the painting is actually quite beautiful…no, really! The two lumps of dung it sits on are decorated with glittering and colorful pins and the gold background and sheer size of the thing in truth makes the Madonna figure appear very regal. I’m of the opinion that there was some insidious racism behind the opposition to the painting, which depicts the Virgin Mary as a Black woman.

In any case, at least we can thank Ofili and this whole mess of religiosity and censorship for a great quote from Giuliani who said, “There’s nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects!”

Um, actually Rudy…

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Holy Virgin Mary

The Holy Virgin Mary is a painting created by Chris Ofili in 1996. It was one of the works included in the Sensation exhibition in London, Berlin and New York in 1997–2000. The subject of the work, and its execution, caused considerable controversy in New York, with Rudolph Giuliani – then Mayor of New York City – describing Ofili's work as "sick". In 1998, Ofili was the first black artist to be awarded the Turner Prize. The painting was sold for £2.9 million ($4.6 million) in June 2015.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Holy Virgin Mary

Comments (1)


I felt drawn to this art piece because it so obtrusively contrasted all other art pieces reflecting Mary that I have ever seen. The swooping lines making up Mary's body creates an abstract image; it is compelling to see a representation of any Biblical figure that is not glowing with alabaster skin and blue eyes. The dark skin tones remind the viewer of a more accurate representation of the mother of Jesus. Mary is in the center and is surrounded by images of backsides. Many must take offense with the holy matron and the nude representations for a variety of reasons, which makes the decision to utilize them so much more interesting. The immense size of the portrait itself creates an element of grandeur that causes the viewer to stop, especially when he/she notices the texture enhanced by actual feces on the portrait. It is also interesting how negatively this portrait was received. It really shows how tightly people cling to their religious ideas and figures, or at least their own interpretations of them. Perhaps the culture of that time was more interested in the glowing and immaculate versions of their holy figures than the real humanity of people in history.