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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Australian anger at religious art
Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross, by Priscilla Bracks
The Bin Laden image is by Australian artist Priscilla Bracks
A print of Osama Bin Laden which morphs into Jesus, and a statue of the Virgin Mary covered in a burqa have sparked furious debate in Australia.

The two pieces have gone on display at the National Art School in Sydney after being entered for the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard called them "gratuitously offensive".

Aboriginal artist Shirley Purdie eventually won the $A15,000 (6,000) prize for her Stations of the Cross.

The offending pieces were among 500 entries for the competition, which was established in 1951.

Mr Howard, in an interview with Australia's Daily Telegraph, said: "The choice of such artworks is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians".

"It's really unfortunate people take liberties with the Christian faith they wouldn't take with other religions," added Glynis Quinlan, a spokeswoman for the Australian Christian Lobby.

'Nerve hit'

But the prize's chairman, Reverend Rod Pattenden, defended the judges' decision to include the works, saying: "I think there is a real nerve being hit here."

"The controversy is an indication of why art is such a powerful means of exploring cultural and religious difference".

Priscilla Bracks, who created the print of Bin Laden and Jesus, also spoke out against her critics.

"When you observe these two people, their ethics could not be more different," she wrote on her website.

But, she added: "There is a very real possibility that by giving such significant media attention to those who commit crimes and advocate violence, we may inadvertently elevate of them to a status where, in some circles, they are perceived as sacred and holy - revered in the same way we revere Jesus."

However, Rev Pattenden said he regretted the media storm caused by the exhibition.

"Attention has been taken away from the winning works that had profoundly positive things to say about faith in the midst of our multicultural society," he said.

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