.- Australians are in a stir over artwork depicting Osama bin Laden in a Christ-like pose and a statue of the Virgin Mary covered in a burqa. The two pieces were showcased in a prestigious religious art competition.
"Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross" by Priscilla Bracks is a double-vision print that depicts both Jesus and bin Laden.
Luke Sullivan's "The Fourth Secret of Fatima" is a statue of Mary, her head and torso obscured by a blue burqa.
The artworks were among more than 500 entries in the Blake Prize for Religious Art, and have been included in an exhibition at the National Art School in Sydney.
"The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians," Australian Prime Minister John Howard told Thursday's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Opposition Labor leader Kevin Rudd also criticized the artwork. "I accept you know people can have artistic freedom, but I find this painting off, off in the extreme. I understand how people would be offended by it," he said.
Australia is overwhelmingly Christian and the Australian Christian Lobby condemned the print.
"It's really unfortunate people take liberties with the Christian faith they wouldn't take with other religions," Lobby spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan told reporters.
Spokesperson for the Blake Prize, Rev. Rod Pattenden, defended he controversial selection for this year's competition, saying the aim of the prize was to encourage discussion about spirituality in society.
"It poses the question of what's the future of religion,â said Sullivan.
The $15,000 Blake Prize was awarded on Wednesday to Shirley Purdie for her "Stations of the Cross".