The exhibit, entitled Buried, by Spanish artist Abel Azcona has caused controversy since it opened on Friday.
The exhibition tells the stories of people who were shot and who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, but also includes a retrospective of Azcona’s work, which includes several pieces that are critical of Spanish society and religion, including the piece “Amen” in which 242 holy wafers spell out “paedophilia”.
— Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) August 2, 2015
The exhibit has caused such outrage that on Tuesday evening someone sneaked into Pamplona City Hall and stole the holy wafers.
Azcona acquired the over 200 hosts used in the exhibit by “pretending” to go to Holy Communion then pocketing the wafers, according to critics, who launched a change.org petition to get the exhibit closed down.
As of Wednesday morning, the petition had amassed over 96,000 signatures.
“The Holy Sacrament of Jesus Christ should not be put on the floor or stolen,” one person commented on the petition.
“How could a human do such a thing?!” wrote another commenter.
— Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) November 22, 2015
Hidden camera shots show how Azcona pocketed the hosts during mass.
“Religion is at the same level as cancer or AIDS, and in fact, it has killed more people than those diseases,” Azcona said in a recent interview with Spanish magazine Jot Down.
The artist, 27, is no stranger to controversy. His previous works include Dark Room during which he was locked in a darkened room for 60 days and nights with minimal food, and La Calle, for which Azcona received hormone treatment to become a transexual prositiute.
Religious groups reacted angrily to the latest exhibit; the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers filed a lawsuit to close the exhibit, claiming that “over 40,000 people protested the exhibit in less than 20 hours” in a change.org petition and on social media.
Ayuntamiento de Pamplona: ¡Paren ya esta grave profanación pública! Es un delito: – ¡Firma! https://t.co/jDVRMvYtdy
— Abogados Cristianosﻦ (@AbogadosCrist) November 23, 2015
“Pamplona City Hall – stop this serious public profanity now! It's a crime. Sign!
“The lawsuit accuses the artist of “stealing consecrated hosts from masses in Madrid and Barcelona” accusing him of a “repeated crime of desecration and crimes against religious sentiment” under Spain’s Penal Code.
Me ha llegado una triple querella criminal. Asociación Abogados Católicos, Diócesis y Arzobispado. Feliz Navidad para mi.
— Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) November 23, 2015
“I've just received a triple criminal lawsuit. Association of Catholic Lawyers, Diocese and Archbishop. Happy Christmas to me.” Abel Azcona tweeted.
“If there’s a trial, there’s a trial,” Azcona told local newspaper, Noticias de Navarra, highlighting that he had “committed no crime”.
Azcona also criticized the “Christians” who had been sending him abusive messages on social media and those who had been leaving graffiti messages around Pamplona calling for the exhibit to be closed.
Catholic websites also reacted angrily, infovaticana.com ran the headline “Pamplona City Hall, in the hands of Satan”.
Even political parties waded into the row, with the Unión del Pueblo Navarro (UPN) making a request in the Parliament of Navarra that the exhibit be banned, arguing that it “threatens the beliefs of a section of society”.
The request was rejected in parliament.
“It has a slight whiff of censorship,” said the spokesman for Basque nationalist party Bildu, Adolfo Araiz.
Spain’s ruling Popular Party has criticized the exhibit calling it an “absolute lack of respect” in a press release.
— Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) November 24, 2015
Protest against the exhibition on Tuesday night.
With all the controversy brewing around the exhibit, on Tuesday evening, the hosts mysteriously vanished, as critics staged a protest outside the exhibition.
“We have informed the artist and have both decided that this part of the exhibition will not be replaced but that the exhibition will continue until January,” Pamplona City Hall said in a press release on Tuesday evening.