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Painting featuring biblical figures with Looney Tunes faces taken down after violent threats

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A Sydney art exhibit went from holy to “hold on a minute” after a painting by Sydney artist Philjames, titled Jesus Speaks to the Daughters of Jerusalem, couldn’t walk on hot water. The controversial piece features a playful mashup of Jesus Christ and his followers overlaid with classic Looney Tunes characters, a blend that didn’t sit well with everyone.


Philjames’ creation was yanked from the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre following a surge of online vitriol, just days before the exhibition’s conclusion. What was meant to spark conversation about spirituality and religion instead ignited a fierce debate about respect and artistic expression. The criticism, often heated, quickly turned into a deluge of threats of violence aimed at the artist and the gallery staff, prompting the Liverpool city council to take down the piece.


This year’s Blake Art Prize aimed to celebrate contemporary explorations of spirituality from artists of diverse backgrounds, embracing both believers and non-believers. However, the 2023 oil-on-lithograph work by Philjames became a focal point for outrage, with protesters claiming it demeaned the Christian faith. Among those calling for its removal was Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun, who stated that many residents were “disgusted and offended” by the artwork.



Mayor Mannoun articulated the sentiments of the critics, emphasizing that “the Christian Messiah and the Muslim Messiah Jesus has no connection to the cartoon character Goofy.” 


Some outrage was expected by the artist—he normally enjoyed “stirring a bit of a reaction,” according to a statement published by The Guardian—but the level of hostility his piece ended up provoking was shocking to him. By last Friday and Saturday, he’d gotten approximately 200 “vile” hate messages on social media, while the gallery that represented the work received more than 60 upset phone calls on Friday.


“The novelty very quickly wore off,” he added, stating that the attacks were “actually frightening.”




A post shared by philjames (@philjames)



Philjames defended the work, noting that his art often incorporates cartoon characters to deal with human issues, and that the controversy might set a dangerous precedent for limiting creative freedom. His artistic lens tackles diverse subjects, not just religion. In fact, there “wasn’t really any meaning” to the painting, he said.



Opening image: Generated on AI

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