October 14, 2001

Subject: Victory
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 18:27:33 EDT
From: DSN121518@aol.com
To: almalopez@earthlink.net

Dear Alma,

Congratulations. When you win a victory against censorship you win a victory for all Americans. Thank you for fighting the good fight.



Subject: SF
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 16:12:15 -0600
From: gloria nieto <globall@cybermesa.com>
To: Alma Lopez <almalopez@earthlink.net>


There is a series of articles on the Cyber Arte exhibit in today's paper. Would you like me to send them to you?



Subject: Re: SF
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 19:27:32 -0600
From: gloria nieto <globall@cybermesa.com>
To: <almalopez@earthlink.net>

Santa Fe New Mexican

'Cyber Arte' curator recounts the past several months of controversy


October 14, 2001

Tey Marianna Nunn was driving home to Albuquerque after Christmas shopping last year when she overcorrected and rolled her 1997 Subaru Outback. It flipped seven times, hit another car and crossed four lanes of traffic on Interstate 25. Miraculously, she walked away with only a concussion, a crushed foot and a hip injury.

Another miracle occurred when Nunn's husband visited the crash site. In the dirt he found a cross still attached to the Subaru's rear-view mirror. The picture of Santo Niño de Atocha was missing, but the bottle cap and the Popsicle sticks were still intact. The car cross, designed by Albuquerque artist Goldie Garcia, is now on display at Nunn's home shrine.

Three months after the accident, Nunn, 38, the curator of Contemporary Hispano and Latino Collections at the Museum of International Folk Art, faced another major crisis.

She found herself at the center of a bitter controversy over her decision to include Our Lady, a digital image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in an exhibit titled "Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology."

Last week a state district judge refused to remove the painting from the exhibit, which is scheduled to close Oct. 28, four months early.

Nunn received threatening mail. Her ethnicity was questioned. She was accused of cultural insensitivity, even of being a member of a secret lesbian sisterhood.

And when she attended a meeting of the museum's Board of Regents in March, she was escorted from her office by security guards.

More recently she was advised to seek legal counsel.

The experience has been frustrating and painful for Nunn, a Hispana and native New Mexican. But, she said, "getting through that (accident) has given me perspective on this in a weird way. At least I'm alive to experience it."

The impact on Nunn and the other three artists in the exhibit - Marion Martínez of Glorieta, Teresa Archuleta-Sagel of Española and Elena Baca of Albuquerque - is one of the untold stories of a largely one-sided debate that made headlines for months and attracted international atten-tion.

Taking liberties with tradition

The photo-based print, by California artist Alma López, depicted the virgin with some familiar imagery (cloak, roses, rays of light, the crescent moon). But López presented her clad only in flowery undergarments and held aloft by a buxom, bare-breasted angel.

Our Lady is one of eight pieces in the exhibit by López, who was born in Mexico and moved to Los Angeles with her family. She explained that she wanted to depict a strong Chicana woman and honor an icon from her childhood. Many of her other images in the exhibit display the Virgin of Guadalupe in her traditional pose.

López is not the first artist to take liberty with the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe - which has a cultural importance demonstrated by depictions on everything from bath mats to cowboy boots. In a 1997 exhibit at a Tucson gallery, Ezequiel Esparza showed the virgin flirtatiously removing her skimpy bikini bottom made out of green star-studded cloth.

But López's depiction deeply offended some local Catholics, who saw it as an insult to their faith. "I don't even want to look at it," Carlos Martinez, a parishioner at Christo Rey Catholic Church, said last March. "They're making a spectacle of something I believe in deeply."

In an e-mail to López, José Villegas of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, charged, "Your disrespect towards the Catholic community and our blessed mother will not be tolerated in Northern New Mexico," and warned, "You may find yourself in some serious trouble with our raza."

And the Rev. Terrence Brennan of Holy Trinity Church in Arroyo Seco called Our Lady "a mockery of our cultural heritage."

"She is just not an image," he said. "We see her as our spiritual mother. We come to the defense of our mother, as we would come to the defense of anyone in the family. Mary is our mother living in heaven, interceding for us. We can't just turn a deaf ear."

Not all who would describe themselves as Hispanic, Catholic or conservative joined the outcry. Many people - Catholic and non-Catholic - quietly protested the idea of censorship.

"Museums by definition are provocative," said Carlota Baca of Santa Fe, a former administrator with the Fulbright Scholars program. "I don't think that's entirely bad.

"I don't believe in censorship. What I felt bad about is that I had to pull out my First Amendment credentials for what I thought was a mediocre piece of art. When I saw it, I thought, 'Is this what this is all about?' "

Our Lady is not the first - or last - piece of art to cause bitter controversy, Baca pointed out. "One thing I love about art is that once in a while it has the power to galvanize people in a way politics doesn't," she said.

Straddling two worlds

Although Nunn has an Anglo last name, her cultural upbringing was Latino. Her grandparents were founding members of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. Her father is a Latin Americanist; her mother is New Mexican. She was named Tey - short for Esther - in honor of her mother and grandmother. She straddled two worlds - an advantage in her current job - but, she admitted, "I never fit neatly into any category."

Nunn graduated from the University of Nevada at Reno in 1985 with a major in anthropology and a minor in Spanish. She earned a master's degree in Latin American studies from The University of New Mexico in 1993 and a doctorate in 1998. For her master's thesis on devotion to Santo Niño de Atocha, she spent a month doing field research at the Santuario of Santo Niño de Atocha in Plateros, Zacatecas, Mexico, as well as a great deal of time in Chimayó.

When people question her credentials and her family background, as they did at a board of regents meeting in April, Nunn said she feels like saying, "I'm sorry I'm tall. ... But my mother is 5 foot 1." Nunn is one of two Latina curators at the Museum of New Mexico and one of the few in the United States. "It took me two decades of education and experience to get this job," she said. In 1994, she was one of the first participants in the Smithsonian Institution's Latino Graduate Seminars. They were a response to the museum's own report, Willful Neglect: The Smithsonian and Latinos, on the lack of Latino representation in the museum's collection as well as the absence of Latinos among upper-level staff.

One of Nunn's goals as curator at the folk-art museum is to raise the profile of Hispanic art at the Museum of New Mexico. Although the Familia y Fe wing at the folk-art museum had already been created when she joined the museum in June 1997, she said, "I came in with the idea that we could do better."

One of her first projects was an exhibit called "Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era," which opened in June 1999. It brought to public attention, for the first time, Hispanic artists employed by the Works Progress Administration. Her book based on the exhibit was published this year by UNM Press.

She received the page proofs in March, just as the Our Lady story was breaking and she was coming under personal attack. The coming publication gave her comfort. "At least I could say, 'OK, so I've done something good here,' " she said.

Nunn organized the "Cyber Arte" exhibit to show the Latino presence on the Internet. The four artists she selected are Hispanas, and three of them are from New Mexico. In addition, the exhibit designer is Hispana, and Hispanic lenders contributed some pieces. Nunn also hired Latina students to compile lists of Hispanic art Web sites for visitors to the museum.

She acknowledged the feelings of those who said they were offended. "I know people have been terribly troubled. I understand." she said. "But I expect them to understand that there are always different views."

The criticism that she is culturally insensitive, Nunn said, "has been hard to take when what you are all about is representing the culture." None of the critics know her, she said. "If they knew what I'm all about this wouldn't be the battle to fight."

Nunn doesn't think critics were simply reacting to an image they found offensive. Their response involved many other emotions over which the museum - and the curator - had no control, she said. Although cyber surfers can make novenas on the Internet, some traditionalists just feel computer-assisted art is not really art. They are offended by the very concept of tradition and technology, she said.

The controversy also became a conflict between the institution - perceived as Anglo, aloof and arrogant - and the Hispanic community. Latinos are used to struggling to get included in museums and to viewing the museum as the enemy, Nunn conceded: "I understand that perception, but in this case it's wrong."

Some of the opposition was rooted in prejudice, she believes. "They saw a lot of Anglo names, including mine, making decisions. They chose to criticize without knowing the facts."

Nunn thinks gender played a role in the controversy.

The director of the museum is female, so is the curator, the designer, the graphic designer and all the artists, she pointed out, yet all the main voices of opposition were male.

López also suggested the attacks on her were coming primarily from men. "I am a woman who has grown up with the Virgen. Who are these men to tell me how to relate to her?," she said in a statement last spring.

Brennan disagreed. The reverend said an equal number of women attended public meetings and talked about their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Brennan added that he personally separates the art from the artist: "It hardly matters whether a man or a woman put forth the art. It's not the artist being attacked; it's the offensive art, the procedures the museum has taken. "I genuinely feel sorry that Alma López has been attacked or feels she has been."

Sexual orientation was not often raised - in public - but that too might have been a factor for some opponents, Nunn suggested. Although López didn't intend Our Lady to be seen as lesbian-related, some of López's other work, which opponents discovered on her Web site, has lesbian content.

"This has been really tough and really mean," Nunn concluded. "There was a moment when I thought, 'What have I done? Did I really do something wrong?' " In the end she decided that what she had done was to unknowingly tap into a complex set of feelings that were not all directly related to the artwork.

But she never expected the attacks to be so personal. "My identity, ethnicity, education, judgment, credentials, dedication were all called into question. That's traumatic in and of itself. But especially so when you feel you are exactly the opposite." Nunn said she cried for two hours after reading an editorial urging museum curators to be more sensitive.

By reacting the way they did, Nunn said, "I feel they (those who called for the removal of (López's artwork) undermined me, themselves and the culture."

The great danger of the controversy is that it will make curators more cautious in the future about upsetting some members of the community. If she had the opportunity to make the selection all over again, Nunn said, she would do it - for this exhibit. "If the exhibit was about how Hispanic artists and writers feel the need to reimage Guadalupe, I would put it up," she added. But in an exhibit of Guadalupana, she said, she "probably wouldn't."