The painting, which is called “Making a Martyr”, depicts the former immigration and later justice minister naked on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns. Microphones and flowers are spread around her feet.
The logo of the populist Progress Party, of which Listhaug is a prominent member, appears on her shoulder while the phrase “Min kamp” – which translates to “Mein Kampf” in German but is also the title of a famous series of autobiographical novels by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård – is written on her stomach.
Listhaug resigned from her ministerial post last month after political and public outcry over an image and message she posted Facebook.
In the March 9th social media post, which contained a photo of al-Shabaab militants, she accused opposition party Labour of considering that “the rights of terrorists are more important than the security of the nation”.
She was criticising Labour's opposition to a proposal to strip the citizenship of Norwegians who pose a threat to the nation's vital interests, without a court order.
Labour members were the main victims of the deadliest attacks on Norwegian soil since the Second World War when, on July 22nd, 2011, Anders Breivik, who once was a member of the Progress Party, killed 77 people in twin attacks in Oslo and against a Labour youth camp on the island of Utøya.
In her departing speech as justice minister, Listhaug said on a number of occasions that she wanted to continue her “battle” – “kamp” in Norwegian – in politics.
She has not so far commented on the street art, which Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Tuesday called “provocative”.
“I have great respect for freedom of speech through art, and I have great respect for street art in Bergen, where it enriches the city. But this is how it is with art designed to provoke: it is provocative,” the PM, who is from Bergen, told NRK.
“Art is now overshadowing politics,” Solberg also said, adding that she did “not think Sylvi Listhaug is a martyr, nor do I think she is trying to style herself as a martyr.”
Christoffer Thomsen, Progress Party leader in Bergen, said that the ‘Min kamp’ reference should not have been included in the painting.
“It is a curious picture. Most curious is the text we see around the stomach. That is a nasty reference [the artist] should have avoided,” Thomsen told NRK.
“The artist is entitled to speak freely, as all others are fortunately able to do,” he added.
Other commenters have also pointed out the art work’s relevance for debate on free speech.
“It is interesting that this is about free speech. Listhaug presented herself as the foremost defender of free speech. Now she has a problem. She has to defend the artist’s right to expression. It’s a ‘Catch 22’, and Listhaug is in checkmate. It’s smart and clever,” Frode Bjerkestrand, cultural editor with newspaper Bergens Tidende, said to NRK.
Speaking to media Dagen, artist AFK said the artwork was intended as a comment on Listhaug’s rhetoric, and not a personal attack.
“I obviously do not want to crucify Sylvi Listhaug. The picture is intended as a comment on her rhetoric. When she ‘sacrificed herself’ to keep the Progress Party in government, when she said her free speech was infringed in front of Norway’s entire press corps, when she in reality was being prevented from making extremist right-wing statements, conspiracy theories and hate rhetoric by a parliamentary majority,” the anonymous artist said.
Police in Bergen told newspaper VG that the street art would be treated as a form of graffiti.
“We are establishing with the owners of the building whether this was done with their permission or whether it can be considered vandalism,” West Police District operation leader Tatjana Knappen said.
Property owners in Bergen may choose whether or not to remove street art on their buildings if they have not given prior permission for it.
A member of the committee of the building’s joint owners told Dagbladet on Tuesday that they would let the painting remain in place for the time being.