| 4 December 2021, Saturday |

Cypriot artist angers church and government with protest paintings

After his works representing Jesus in unusual places and also taking a dig at politicians garnered the fury of religious and government officials, Cypriot artist George Gavriel almost lost his job as a high school principal.

Gavriel, 62, uses his painting as a form of protest to call attention to what he sees as societal problems.

Some of his work is influenced by the Mediterranean island’s recent corruption scandals, including a now-discredited citizenship for investment system in which thousands of wealthy investors obtained passports.

“My inspiration comes from our experiences, our lives, our concerns, the way we see the world, even our ideology,” Gavriel told Reuters as he showed works in his home studio.

One of his paintings showed President Nicos Anastasiades, who stood on a golden Cypriot passport with a halo around his head. Others criticize the Church’s alleged wealth, contrasting it with the humility of religious figures such as Jesus Christ, who is depicted among refugees or riding a donkey alongside a church head in a limousine.

Gavriel was subjected to a disciplinary investigation when the island’s powerful Greek Orthodox Archbishop complained about his work.

Depictions of Jesus – as a soccer fan, on a motorcycle, naked, or interned in a refugee camp – were “obscene”, the Church said in a written complaint.

The government said Gavriel violated both the spirit and the letter of his obligations as a civil servant and a high school headmaster.

“Can a headmaster who is simultaneously an amateur artist offend and insult, through his work, people and institutions? No he cannot,” Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said after appearing at a parliamentary inquiry.

However, the process was dropped after a public outcry and expressions of support from lawmakers.

“I believe that in a democracy freedom of expression in art should be guaranteed and nobody should be prosecuted about how they express their views through their art,” said Alexandra Attalides, an MP for Cyprus’s Greens Party and a co-sponsor of an inquiry into the matter by parliament’s Human Rights Committee.

The office of Archbishop Chrysostomos, the head of Cyprus’s Church, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Some people might think that I insulted religion. That is their right. I had no intention of offending religion, its just creating a work without any limitations,” said Gavriel, a graduate of a Russian academy of fine arts whose works also hang in a museum in China.

Gavriel says the government failed to listen to his side of the story.

“I think one battle has been won, but the war continues,” he said.