Sacred Circle VI by French-Canadian artist Rosalie Maheux is part of a collection of works by artists under the age of 30 on display in the John B. Aird gallery in the lobby of an Ontario government office block in downtown Toronto.
The artwork looks like an interesting mosaic from a short distance away, but a closer view shows the 84 cm x 84 cm piece is composed of what many would consider pornographic pictures of women engaged in various sex acts.
Maheux did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, but in a news release issued by the John B. Aird Gallery she defended her work as a feminist comment that was meant to be beautiful from afar but jarring up close.
"The use of pornographic images in the creation of these highly detailed patterns goes against the original meanings of the sacred circle by creating an ambiguous dialogue between attraction and repulsion, a common duality in pornography as well as in certain religious thoughts," said Maheux.
The gallery statement called Maheux's work "a collage of provocative images on paper that creates a confrontation with the sacred" and said "it is not the practice of the John B. Aird gallery to censor works."
Progressive Conservative women's critic Laurie Scott said she was disappointed to see such explicit images of women on display in a provincial government office, and doesn't care what the artist had in mind.
"Regardless of the aims or intent of the artist, Ontarians expect their government to lead by example in combating the sexual objectification of women," Scott said in a statement. "The fact that a publicly housed gallery has been allowed to not only display but to sell images of this nature is very worrisome."
The Liberal government said the gallery is a public space operated by an independent board of directors made up of volunteers from the community and representatives from four art societies.
"I understand that the board directs the gallery and its operations and an executive director or curator, appointed by the board, works to achieve the aims of the gallery and manage day-to-day operations," said deputy premier Deb Matthews in a statement.
But the Conservatives insisted government offices are no place for sexually graphic art works.
"Our work on the select committee on sexual violence and harassment has highlighted that women in Ontario still face immense barriers at home, at work and in broader society," said Scott. "The recent public outcry over sexual violence against women and crimes like human trafficking shows that Ontarians want a safer, more inclusive province for women and girls."
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