Paintings With Muslim Clerics in Gay Settings Cause Uproar in Pakistan

School officials at the National College of the Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, received threats of violence after publishing a series of paintings depicting Muslim clerics with homoerotic undertones.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

December 29 2012 3:35 PM ET

A series of paintings showing Muslim clerics in scenes with gay undertones has sparked such uproar in Pakistan that the university which published the images has shut down the publication where the images appeared, according to the Associated Press.

Officials at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, shut down the Journal of Contemporary Art, which published the paintings by artist Muhammad Ali in a summer edition. School officials also removed all issues of the journal from campus bookstores and dissolved the journal's editorial board after the images sparked threats of violence from Islamic extremists, according to the AP. A court is reportedly considering whether the artist, the journal's editorial board, and the school's headmaster can be charged with blasphemy. 

"The college's decision to cave to Islamist pressure underscores how space for progressive thought is shrinking in Pakistan as hardline interpretations of Islam gain ground," reports Asif Shahzad for the AP. "It was also a marked change for an institution that has long been one of the leading defenders of liberal views in the country." 

One of the offending images was titled "Call for Prayer," and reportedly depicted a Muslim cleric and a young, shirtless boy sitting beside one another on a bed. The cleric holds a rosary "as he gazes at the boy, who seductively stretches backward with his hands clasped behind his head," reports the AP. 

The lawyer who asked the court to consider blasphemy charges told the AP the image implied the cleric had "fun" with the boy before conducting the traditional Muslim call to prayer.

But Asaim Akhtar, an art critic who wrote an essay accompanying the images when they appeared in the Journal, told the AP the artist intentionally mixed images that were "deliberately, violently profane," in an effort to challenge "homophobic" beliefs  that run rampant in Pakistani society.

"Ali redefines the divine through a critique of authority and the hypocrisy of the cleric," wrote Akhtar, an Islamabad-based art critic who is also listed as a potential defendant in the blasphemy complaint, according to the AP.

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