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Ultra-maxi Priest remains a secret

In the 1960s, police busted a gallery owner for an installation of nudes. More recently, when an artist filmed a cat being killed and eaten, the artist was locked up. Even if the country's definition of obscenity has transformed over time, for decades the debate has stayed the same: Is art censorship an act thwarting obscenity or an Orwellian control?

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Artist Tamara Zeta Sanowar-Makhan, who was raised Catholic, says organized religion makes women ashamed of their bodies, and asks: Why should a maxi-pad be a secret? Her installation Ultra-Maxi Priest will also remain a secret. At the last minute, the Oakville, Ont. municipality pulls the robe from its gallery display opening tonight. It is an alb, a long white robe worn by Christian clergy, covered in layers of stitched-on unused maxi-pads.

The town clerk says the work is offensive and inappropriate, especially because the municipal building is not officially an art gallery. Regardless, the artist says she'll wear the piece tonight in front of the gallery and offer to explain it.
. Sanowar-Makhan created the Ultra-Maxi Priest in 1995 and a Toronto gallery exhibited it previously without any complaints. The alb also appeared in director Deepa Mehta's film Kama Sutra.
. All the works displayed at the municipal building exhibition were by artists of Canadian-South Asian decent.

. Around the same time, then-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani considered censoring Sensation, a controversial Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibition of British artists. It displayed a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung and cut-outs from pornographic magazines. The mayor, a Catholic who said the painting disgraced his religion, threatened to withdraw the museum's funding and possibly force its eviction.
Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Oct. 1, 1999
Guest(s): Tamara Zeta Sanowar-Makhan
Host: Brent Bambury, Tina Srebotnjak
Duration: 5:49

Last updated: January 20, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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