Anger as image of Jesus Christ immersed in urine going on display in Derry
One of the world's most controversial artists has been blasted by churches after it emerged that his notorious image of Christ immersed in urine would be shown at an exhibition in Londonderry.
Since the 1980s Andres Serrano's work has sparked massive and intense debate over the limits of censorship, taste, public decency and acceptable modes of expression.
Now the American's most infamous image - P*** Christ - will be shown at a politically-charged exhibition called Torture at the Void Gallery on October 8.
The exhibition also features images depicting the Hooded Men - a group of 14 men arrested at the height of the Troubles and, according to the European Court of Human Rights, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. In 1987, Serrano received international attention for P*** Christ, igniting heated debate on the freedom of artistic expression and the public financing of controversial artworks. The image will go on show in Derry along with a second piece from the Immersion series, Black Supper, a dark re-imagining of da Vinci's Last Supper.
Rev Roger Higginson of Coleraine Free Presbyterian Church said the artist's desire to shock could be his way of hiding a lack of talent.
He added: "Men like these artists are actually quite cowardly because they make a mockery of Christ in a way that they wouldn't if it was Mohammed or the Muslim faith because that would put them in danger.
"It is easy for people like him to take a cheap shot and mock Christ, mock Christian people and mock the Bible.
"His depiction of the Lord is offensive, not just to me as a man but it offends me greatly because this is how he portrays the Lord who gave up his life for all of us and this artist has thrown that sacrifice back.
"If you consider artists like Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt, they didn't set out to shock people or be controversial because they had real talent and their work spoke for itself. Perhaps if, as an artist you need to shock and cause offence and outrage to get your work noticed, it may be because of a lack of real talent."
Pastor Mark Bradfield from the Bethnal Baptist Church in Derry said Serrano's depiction of Christ was "disgraceful".
He said: "Christianity at its core is a very hospitable faith but to try and undermine Christianity, make fun of it and call it entertainment or art as this artist has done is disgraceful.
"To depict Christ in a bucket of urine just because you have the free will to do so is not acceptable and that a so-called Christian country is giving space for this to be viewed by anyone is a disgrace."
The inclusion of four images of the Hooded Men has also led to criticism. East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said Serrano appears to be presenting an unbalanced viewpoint for the sake of controversy.
He said: "Going on the past record of this artist, this exhibition is setting out to be deliberately provocative. It doesn't seem as if he has examined the context in which the interrogation of the Hooded Men took place. I think he is being deliberately outrageous and the best way for the public to react to this exhibition is to treat it with the contempt it deserves and stay away."
Void Gallery director Maoliosa Boyle said getting the exhibition for Derry was a real coup.
She added: "This is the first time Torture has been shown anywhere in Ireland and we are delighted to host it.
"Andres Serrano's work is very direct and the viewer is faced with the horrors of torture. People in Derry are very interested in politics and are very familiar with the details of the Hooded Men which are part of this exhibition."
The exhibition launches on October 8 at 7.30pm and runs until December 17.