Anti-censorship group responds to MOCA art exhibit controversy

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Controversy continues to surround an art exhibit set to open in Virginia Beach this weekend.

On Friday, the Director of Programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship sent 10 On Your Side a copy of a letter she sent to those commission members who have expressed concern that public money is funding the exhibit.

The letter reads in part:

“The suggestion that you may work to cut future funding to MOCA as punishment for exhibiting art that you dislike raises serious First Amendment concerns.”

The letter goes on to say: “…Government officials cannot use financial leverage as a threat to silence those with whom they disagree.”

Earlier in the week, president of a national Catholic organization sent a letter to the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA, that some find as controversial as the exhibit.

The painting causing most of the uproar depicts a little girl in her first communion dress slicing a ham with the words ‘Mystici Corporis Christi’, Latin for ‘the mystical body of Christ’.

Photos: Controversial Art Exhibit Coming to MOCA

President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Bill Donohue, sent the letter saying in-part:

“Why not substitute a young Muslim girl in a hijab, wearing a machete around her neck, cutting a piece of ham with the words, “Allahu Akbar” inscribed on it.”

“When Muslims complain, tell them that “art is intended to be controversial,”

Local priest, Jim Curran, reacted to that comment saying, “I wish that it had been a more thoughtful response.”

"Rosie's Tea Party" by Mark Ryden
“Rosie’s Tea Party” by Mark Ryden

Father Curran, pastor of St Mary’s Basilica in Norfolk, notes that Donohue’s words could be just as offensive to Muslims, as the painting is to some Christians. He appreciates the organization standing up for the church, but told 10 On Your Side that in this case, he’s not even sure it needs defending.

“The mystical body of Christ which is written on the ham in Latin is reference to the church so I’m not sure of his point. If his point was to show the church being split and eroding, which is just, it is a truth, it is a sad and tragic truth, but its the truth,” Fr. Curran says.

10 On Your Side reported last week that the exhibit has raised big concerns from Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities commission member Ben Loyola. He argues that MOCA gets $120,000 in taxpayer money.

Fr. Curran concurs there should be a standard when public money is involved.

When looking at the picture in question, Fr. Curran says, “I think it’s a creepy picture.”

But he’s not even sure it would reach the level of affecting public money.

Spokesperson for Virginia MOCA, Dot Greene, released the following statement:

The beauty of art is that it’s open to interpretation. Some symbols and iconography in “Rosie’s Tea Party” will hold completely different meanings to different people. Our job is to be a conduit for discovery, not to police it. The fifty-one artists in this exhibition represent current movements in art and have played an important role in the history of Hi-Fructose magazine.

Some great dialogue has been created by this piece which serves our mission in fostering awareness, exploration, and understanding of the significant art of our time.


The official opening of Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose is Sunday at 10 a.m. with a Q&A at 2 p.m. that is free with museum admission.

The public opening on Saturday has been sold out.

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