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Artwork that caused a stir

Creators of controversial artwork like to provoke their audiences. They boldly go in opposition of the norm or depict subjects that are viewed taboo.

These artworks are often banned, damaged, or publicly scorned. They have left a mark in the history books and have paved the way forward for freedom of expression and inspiring all throughout the centuries.

The Last Judgment

  • Artist: Michelangelo
  • Year: c. 1536-1541

This piece by using Renaissance master Michelangelo covers the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and depicts the Second Coming of Christ. At the time of creation, it sparked a major dispute between the Catholic Church and enthusiasts of Michelangelo’s work.

The Catholic Church was not happy that Michelangelo had opted to showcase nudity in a holy place, saying that it was more suited for public baths and taverns. After Michelangelo’s death, the genitalia in the painting had been censored by painting over them with draped fabrics.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

  • Artist: Pablo Picasso
  • Year: 1907

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marked a radical departure from standard viewpoint and composition in painting. It depicts five bare women, their figures made up of flat, splintered planes. Their faces were inspired by African masks as well as Iberian sculpture.

The girls are prostitutes, and the title refers to an avenue in Barcelona that was famous for its brothel. When it was unveiled in 1916, many people were shocked by the shameless depiction of the prostitutes.


  • Artist: Marcus Harvey
  • Year: 1995

Myra Hindley is a serial killer from the ‘60s. She killed five young people. In 1995, artist Marcus Harvey painted Myra, a large adaptation of Myra Hindley’s mugshot. In 1997, it was covered in the Sensation exhibition of Young British Artists at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

The inclusion of this work resulted in four members of the Royal Academy resigning in protest. A mom of one of the murdered children protested the controversial art’s display. On opening day, two artists vandalised the painting using eggs and ink.

The Holy Virgin Mary

  • Artist: Chris Ofili
  • Year: 1996

This painting depicts a black Virgin Mary surrounded with genitalia and buttocks from pornography magazines. One of her breasts was depicted as a ball of elephant dung. The painting calls attention to racial stereotypes and the customary whiteness of biblical figures in Western representations.

However, no one has been willing to seriously delve into the meanings at the back of this painting. The painting was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1999.

Former mayor Rudy Giuliani referred to the controversial artwork as sick and disgusting. He additionally threatened to take funding from the museum, affirming that the piece was offensive to spiritual audiences. Several months into the exhibition, a traveller smeared white paint on the painting, claiming the photo was blasphemous.

Any artist will know that unlike a casino bonus in Canada, you can’t please everyone. However, daring to push boundaries comes with a whole lot more than simply making headlines.