Rilda Paco’s painting of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Rilda Paco.

Bolivia’s Culture Minister Threatens Artist with Legal Action Over Controversial Artwork

A number of Bolivian politicians and high-ranking religious officials are up in arms after Bolivian artist Rilda Paco created an artwork depicting the patron saint of the city of Oruro in red underwear, thigh-high stockings, and a crop top. The image has since been condemned as “scandalous,” and a number of officials, including Wilma Alanoca, the country’s culture minister, have called for legal action against the artist.

“We have determined that [the artwork] is an affront to the people of Oruro and popular religious groups,” Germán Navia, the municipal secretary of cultures of Oruro, told Telesur. The city’s governor, Victor Hugo Vasquez, pledged to pursue “maximum sanctioning” for Paco. “How can we offend our patron, it is inadmissible to offend her in this way,” he said. “I do not accept this type of offense towards our virgin, our mother.”

The artist, who calls herself Imilla Cunumi Birlocha, has been forced to publicly defend her work, which she said is a reference to the Carnaval de Oruro, a religious festival that dates back at least two hundred years, and the debauchery that it incites. “I have not committed any crime; I am not a murderer; I am not a violator; I have not beaten anyone,” Paco told local media. The artist added that the piece protests against people who are not actually religious and participate in the festival as an excuse to drink and party, as well as the objectification of women.

According to Página Siete, Paco and members of her family have since received death threats because of the painting. The controversy has also prompted hundreds of supporters to rally to the artist’s defense on social media. One Facebook user wrote: “We will pray for the soul of this hypocritical society that goes crazy for seeing a picture of a ‘virgin’ in underwear, but they love to see thousands of half-naked women dancing for ‘devotion.’”