A 'blasphemous' exhibit depicting 'Our Lady of Guadalupe' in a floral bikini is to go on show in University College Cork (UCC) tomorrow -- and critics have begun attacking the 'artwork' before it's even begun.

'Our Lady and Other Queer Santas' is the brainchild of Alma Lopez, a graduate of the University of California at Irvine - a well-known target of criticism from religious Catholic groups, and is being displayed as part of a weekend conference on Hispanic Studies taking place at the university.

The conference is to discuss the ins and outs of Chicano culture, alongside a discussion of the plight of Mexicans in US culture, but it's the exhibit that has been making the headlines recently, and attracting the critics.

A discussion on popular Irish radio broadcaster Joe Duffy's Liveline programme gave airtime to some strong opponents of the exhibition, while a number of figures on the blogosphere have criticized the display, which is due to go on show in the college's O'Rahilly Building.

This morning local politician Jerry Buttimer even chimed in with his two cents, calling it 'denigrating' to adherents of the Catholic faith.

The exhibit sits very broadly within the context of a larger debate in Irish society about blasphemy itself.

A controversial 'Blasphemy Law' was passed at the start of this year, and was decried as a retrograde step by many in the Irish media at the time.

It's since been proven to be largely irrelevant and unenforceable -- 'blasphemous' utterances and displays, such as (arguably) this, continue to go on, and its use seems likely to be largely nfined to cases of blasphemy that are likely to incite hatred on religious grounds. Nevertheless, it continues to prove to be a major bone of contention between the law-making establishment and those governed by its decrees.

Irish universities are also generally libertarian in nature (as they are almost everywhere), and this display (which has attracted local as well as international attention), is a typical case of the collegiate 'free speech' movement clashing with the pervasive (though rapidly demising) influence of the Catholic Church, which once held such an iron-cast grip on Irish society.

As for my own two cents on the exhibition (this being a blog, after all), I have no shame in admitting that I would lend my broad support to those signing petitions against it.

Sensitivity to religion and other peoples' belief systems cannot simply be whitewashed away under a mass current of free speech and libertarianism, and this depiction - while not grossly offensive or obscene - could still find a more suitable home than at a university, which is supposed, at least in my understanding of the concept, to be a place of mutual respect and understanding for others.

> Interesting article from the Irish Examiner with a little more detail about it, here.