The education ministry on Wednesday said it has launched a probe into a high school head teacher whose artworks have raised much controversy seeing him accused of blasphemy for the way he depicts Jesus, and blasted for his take on religion and national heroes.
George Gavriel, a teacher and an artist, came under fire after releasing some of his latest paintings on social media, which he calls as “anti-systemic art.”
Some of his paintings are religion-themed with one showing a naked Jesus and another a dog urinating on the archbishop. In another, a dog is defecating on a statue of Eoka military leader Georgios Grivas. Some of the paintings have also been branded as sexist and misogynist due to the way he depicts the female body.
The artist himself defended his work as his expression of his artistic creation but many feel he took it a step too far, including his employer.
“Neither the freedom of expression nor the freedom of artistic creation can, when it comes to an official in the field of education and especially in a school, justify the insult of public feeling and the promotion of messages that cultivate a sense of contempt or possibly a climate of intolerance within the student community,” the education ministry said.
The ministry said the teachers’ paintings have created “a sore impression” and have caused great upset among pupils, parents and public opinion.
Since this concerns a school head teacher, the ministry said, a disciplinary probe has been launched based on the existing regulations.
Archbishop Chrysostomos called for his dismissal on Wednesday.
Many on social media attacked the artist.
“If this teacher was in another country, he would now be hung upside down and beaten to death,” one woman wrote on social media.
One man asked that he is “removed from our Greek-Christian schools,” while several others called for his arrest. Another called on him to “jump off a cliff.” Several users likened him to novelist Salman Rushdie.
But many people also came to his defence.
One user accused the education ministry of hypocrisy for going after Gavriel for the sake of votes while it said nothing about the incident at the Paralimni high school on Monday when pupils abused animals to mark the start of the new school year.
“The works of George Gavriel have shaken the waters, especially the brain cells of the Bible-thumpers, racists, fascists, etc., unprepared for diversity, to accept an expression of art contrary to their beliefs and brainwashing!!!,” one of his defenders said.
Gavriel was not immediately available to comment. In statements in media earlier in the day he defended his work and said he has been doing the same for 40 years.
“I did not want to insult anyone. The artwork came out, with freedom, without any restrictions,” Gavriel told Sigma TV. He said he feels free to express himself without any restrictions. “I have no limits in my work, or issue as regards faith or moral or social dilemmas,” he said.
He added he records the world through his eyes and dares point out the vicious powers that rule society.
Gavriel said he sees Jesus as part of society.
“I see Jesus as one of us, among football fans, refugees, protesters, people striking, I believe his place is among people, that is why I depict him as a simple person,” he said.
The teacher also said he did not believe the artistic expression of an artist was of any concern of the education ministry, which, he said, was also the ministry of culture.
Head of secondary education teachers union Oelmek Costas Hadjisavvas told the Cyprus Mail that generally speaking, when the education ministry believes a teacher acts in a way that contradicts their duties, it can order a probe.
Disy MP Annita Demetriou said though freedom of expression was respected, there are limits when it insults symbols, institutions, human dignity and “the religious beliefs of an entire people.”
Far right Elam said it filed a complaint against Gavriel with the Attorney-general and the education minister.