Curator on trial for 'obscene' art

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The Independent Online

Greece's religious right is on a collision course with the art establishment after a prominent curator was put on trial under blasphemy laws for staging a show which Orthodox clerics said was "obscene".

Greece's religious right is on a collision course with the art establishment after a prominent curator was put on trial under blasphemy laws for staging a show which Orthodox clerics said was "obscene".

Christos Ioakimidis, who curated the show Outlook in the run-up to last summer's Olympics, provoked outrage in religious circles by displaying a work featuring, among other things, a cross and male genitalia.

Mr Ioakimidis was called to appear in court yesterday on charges of insulting public sentiment and the Orthodox Church, following a complaint by a far-right politician.

The row is deeply embarrassing for Greek authorities who set up Outlook, the largest modern art show the country had staged, to shake off its image as a backwater of contemporary culture.

After opening in October 2003 the show received mixed reviews but initially no complaints. That changed when George Karatzaferis, leader of a right-wing extremist party, paid it a visit. A notorious self-publicist, he whipped up a storm of indignation after taking offence at a painting, titled Dry Sin, by a Belgian artist, Thierry de Cordier. The canvas, featuring a wooden cross, a penis and semen, was denounced by Mr Karatzaferis as the most "obscene, immoral and shameless" painting he had ever seen.

He demanded its removal and called for an inquiry into whether an offence had occurred under Greece's antiquated blasphemy laws, which allow prosecution if a work has "offended people's religious sentiments".

A number of church activists and conservative politicians, including a former leader of the governing conservative party gave their support. Within days a woman attacked another avant-garde work at the show, slashing it with a knife. Protesters began picketing the entrance.

To the horror of Athens' art world, Mr Ioakimidis opted to defuse the situation by withdrawing Dry Sin on the order of the culture ministry. The decision outraged artists and rights activists who said it threatened freedom of expression.

Mr Ioakimidis said he had authorised removal of the painting to protect the exhibition from "the wrong kind of publicity".

The wheels of the Greek justice system kept grinding until, 17 months later, a judge decided there was a case to answer and called the curator to court.

The latest blasphemy charges have added to concerns at the influence exerted on the political and legal establishments by the conservative Greek Church - which is itself mired in a sex and corruption scandal.

The blasphemy case is likely to be decided by early next year.

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