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Swedish artist commits cardinal sin in Rome

Paul O'Mahony · 7 Dec 2006, 11:38

Published: 07 Dec 2006 11:38 GMT+01:00

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Blaring sirens and flashing police lights brought Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s photo shoot to a hasty end in Rome last Saturday.

The artist was in the city to complete part of her new exhibition, ‘In hate we trust’, due to premiere in January 2007.

The exhibition consists of a photographic meditation on hate crimes. And one crime in particular led Ohlson Wallin to make her way Rome.

“It was the rape of a lesbian girl outside a gay nightclub and how the cardinals at the Vatican responded to it."

"They said that if you are so open about your sexuality then this is what happens,” Ohlson Wallin told The Local.

Clearly the artist is none too enamoured with the current state of the Catholic Church.

“The new pope is even more conservative than the old one. He has compared homosexuality to mental illness,” she said.

Last weekend she travelled to Italy and hooked up with some friends, who agreed to pose for a photograph.

“I have a lot of friends in Italy and decided that it felt right to do the photo shoot in Rome. For this exhibition I have been very inspired by baroque paintings. They are scary to see. Also it is interesting to play with the lighting and add in extra details,” said Ohlson Wallin.

She found a nice calm square for the photo session and arranged the shot.

In the photo the girl is raped by two jack-booted Nazis wearing swastikas on their sleeves. In the background six red-robed cardinals look on, clutching at their visible erections.

“I was thinking of the pope during World War II. Like a lot of other countries the Vatican played along with Hitler,” said the artist.

As for the erections…

“They were wooden forks. I like to keep it simple,” said Ohlson Wallin.

"And there were actually only two ‘cardinals’. I replicated them and added them on later."

Caught up as she was in her work, the photographer did not note the agitated interest of a little old lady out walking her dog.

She later learned that the old lady had come up close to the scene by the fountain. Disgusted, she immediately unsheathed her mobile phone.

“The police came along with sirens and flashing lights. They immediately ran over to the two boys who were dressed as cardinals and asked them to lift their robes," said Ohlson Wallin.

“Luckily the boys had seen the policemen coming and managed to remove the wooden forks in time."

Ohlson Wallin had just finished the photo session when the forces of law and order arrived on the scene.

Story continues below…

“They were not happy when they didn’t find anything and ran over to my computer, which they tried to take away. They took all our ID cards and went to their car. It took an hour for my friends to try to talk to them,” she said.

Finally the artist and her companions managed to retrieve their identification.

“I know of course that religion is important in Italy and that the Vatican is very strong. But I didn’t expect the Italian police to be like this. They told my friends to tell me I was in the wrong country if I wanted to work with this sort of thing,” said Ohlson Wallin.

The ‘In hate we trust’ exhibition makes its debut at Norrköpings Stadsteater on January 28, after which it will tour around the country.

The exhibition will consist of eight very large photographs, each measuring 200 cm x 150 cm.

This is not the first time that Ohlson Wallin’s work has provoked strong reactions. In 1998 her ‘Ecce Homo’ exhibition, which among other things depicted Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary as gay, polarised opinion in Sweden and abroad.

The Church of Sweden’s then archbishop KG Hammar permitted the exhibition to be displayed in Uppsala Cathedral. Pope John Paul II was less enthusiastic however and promptly cancelled his audience with Sweden’s foremost clergyman.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.com)

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