October 14, 2001
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 18:27:33 EDT
Congratulations. When you win a victory against censorship you win a victory for all Americans. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 16:12:15 -0600
From: gloria nieto <email@example.com>
To: Alma Lopez <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 <email@example.com>
Santa Fe New Mexican
'Cyber Arte' curator recounts the past several months of controversy
ANNE CONSTABLE/The New Mexican
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
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
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
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
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."