Faithful Bolivians protest artist's Virgin of Socavon scandalous painting

Faithful followers in one of Bolivia's biggest cities recently held a protest rally against an artist who released a painting of its patron saint, the Virgin of Socavon. Rilda Paco's rendition, however, earned a lot of criticisms and outrage because she depicted the holy figure as wearing red lingerie and black stockings while surrounded by people drinking alcohol.

(REUTERS)Oruro's Carnival religious celebration honors the Virgin Mary as its patron saint.

Despite the rain, protesters sang, prayed and heard mass in front of a religious painting of the Virgin of Socavon in Oruro, Bolivia, last Thursday. Archbishop Cristobal Bialasic, on the other hand, took the rain that poured as "a sign of purification before such a serious offense," referring to Paco's painting.

Officials in the government also condemned Paco's work of art, especially since President Evo Morales hails from Oruro. Cuture Minister Wilma Alanoca reportedly wants legal sanction for the artist.

"A criminal proceeding will be initiated to obtain the sanction that corresponds to those who have dared to discredit our most holy virgin of the Socavon and to whom intends to destroy the patrimonialism and intangibility of the Oruro Carnival," the government official stated.

The artist, however, defended her work and stated she meant no offense in how she had depicted the patron saint. She explained that the Virgin of Socavon represented the annual Carnival celebrations in the city. Unfortunately, the Carnival also has one of the highest alcohol consumption, rape and violent incidents in Bolivia year after year.

"The Virgin is a mother and as mother she is a woman before a saint," Paco said. "Painting her like this denounces how we feel as women when we are victims of harassment, femicide and rape."

Paco also criticized some of her fellow citizens who take advantage of the religious celebration to commit harassments against women. A number of people on social media threw their support for Paco and the country's Minister of Justice, Hector Arce, who also believes that the artist was well within her rights to free speech and religious freedom.