Art depicting Bolivia's Virgin of Socavan de Oruro dressed in a red thong, thigh-high stockings and a crop top are sending shockwaves through the nation and have prompted the artist responsible to publicly defend her work.
Bolivian officials have condemned the "scandalous" image: they say it disgraces the nation's patron, which has been a subject of veneration for centuries.
"We have determined that it is an affront to the people of Oruro and popular religious groups," said Municipal Secretary of Cultures of Oruro German Navia, noting that the virgin was revered throughout Bolivia and a staple of its culture and legends.
"How can we offend our patron, it is inadmissible to offend her in this way... I do not accept this type of offense towards our virgin, our mother," said Governor Victor Hugo Vasquez, who has vowed "maximum sanctioning" against the perpetrator.
Cultural Minister Wilma Alanoca has announced plans to initiate legal action: "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 artist behind the image was quick to defend her work, insistng it had been misinterpreted and taken out of context.
"I must remind people who want to initiate a process that I am not alone, I have not committed any crime, I am not a murderer, I am not a violator, I have not beaten anyone," artist Rilda Paco told local media.
She explained that the piece was meant to criticize the excessive drinking, debauchery and commercialism associated with the cultural festival.
"Where is the freedom of expression? Throughout the history of art worldwide, there have been several works representing the Virgin in many ways. #ARTE DOES NOT CENSURE !!! @wilmalanoca should pronounce in favor of #RildaPaco."
Paco also intended the work as a criticism of the rampant objectification of women that typically characterizes carnival celebrations.
In the image, the virgin is scantily dressed and standing in front of three carnival characters. The trio is dressed in typical attire, dancing and praising the virgin while clutching bottles of alcohol in hand.
"It is a protest," said the artist. "The virgin is another woman who represents us and I sought to criticize the false devotees who use the virgin at their convenience.
"I would not apologize to the people who use religion as an excuse to get drunk to commit excesses, to the people who insult and who want to be protagonists from that work. I would apologize to the true devotees, to those who do social work in the name of the virgin."
Some social media users have voiced their support for Paco. "We will pray for the soul of this hypocritical society that goes crazy for seeing a picture of a 'virgin' in underwear, but they love to see thousands of half-naked women dancing for 'devotion,'" one Facebook user wrote.