London Underground rejects X Factor-style Jesus artwork

(Photo: Lukasz Brzozowski)

Transport for London has banned a contemporary piece of art depicting Jesus before his crucifixion out of fear that it would cause offence.

Painted by artist Anthony Micallef, the piece was meant to run alongside over twenty interpretations of Christ's final days on earth. However, it was deemed inappropriate by TFL authorities and has been withdrawn from the Stations of the Cross project run by Art Below.

Micallef depicts Jesus standing before an X Factor-style panel of judges wearing a crown of thorns, and a sign reads "Kill Your Idol". As part of the project, artwork is being displayed in St Marylebone Church, as well as at Tube stations throughout London. While the church agreed to display the controversial piece, TFL has refused.

A spokesperson for the organisation said the poster did not meet advertising requirements, noting that anything that may cause "widespread or serious offence to members of the public" is not permitted.

Micallef, however, has criticised this decision, branding it as "censorship".

"It is someone taking a quick decision on behalf of someone else and it is silly," he says. "It is not offensive. I don't understand why the church said yes and the tube said no."

He is not the only one to be surprised by the move. Reverend Canon Stephen Evans of St Marylebone told The Guardian: "I thought of all the works it was one that had no reason anyone could find not to put it on the Underground...It is not an image that could cause offence, it's not obscene...It is one of those images that is worth being seen by more people.

"In many ways I think the work is one of the easier images to access. It is a wonderful piece of work and it really does make people stop and think, especially if they like watching programmes like the X Factor. It makes you think about how Christ would bear up in front of a modern TV audience."

The church has reported a good level of interest in the exhibition so far, and Evans says that the public are engaging well with the questions that Holy Week asks, while being encouraged to consider the implications of Christ's death and resurrection in a new way.

"For so long the church has sold such a clean packaged product that people forget the visceral nature of the events that lie at the heart of Christian faith," he explains.

Ben Moore, co-founder of Art Below, has called Micallef's piece "powerful and thought provoking", and noted that he was "honoured" that the artist had agreed to produce a piece for the Lent project.

More info on the project can be found here:

Money raised from the exhibition will go towards the Missing Tom fund, which is looking for Moore's brother who disappeared ten years ago.