June 21, 2011

from Cristina Serna
to nuala.finnegan@ucc.ie
cc Alma Lopez
date Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 8:05 PM
subject Re: Our Lady in Ireland

Nuala Finnegan

Head of the Hispanic Studies Department

University College Cork, Ireland

June 21, 2011

Dear Dr. Finnegan,

First, I am writing to congratulate and thank you and the other organizers and supporters of the Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicano/a Culture conference at the University College Cork, for your labor and vision in organizing this exciting conference with some of our most respected and esteemed Chicana lesbian feminist artists and writers. I am, of course, referring to Alma Lopez, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Celia Herrera Rodriguez, and Cherrie Moraga.

I am also writing to express my concern about the possible negative backlash caused by recent protests generated by the America Needs Fatima group, a group that has been aggressively targeting and attempting to censor Alma Lopez, her art, and the book she recently co-edited with Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba. I would like to voice my strong support for the intellectual and artistic value and significance of Alma Lopez's art, and of the book, Our Lady of Controversy, which precisely analyzes the aggressive campaigns that target, persecute, and attempt to censor Alma Lopez and other artists like her.

As a Chicana feminist scholar who researches and teaches the work of Mexican and Chicana lesbian feminist artists I am concerned by the current campaign to discredit Alma Lopez’s art and person and by accusations that her work violates Irelands's blasphemy laws.

Although these accusations are without obvious merit or foundation, I would like to make a statement in support of Alma Lopez’s art and book by referring her critics to Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009, particularly section 36.3 which states that “It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.”

The numerous articles, books, theses, dissertations, art exhibitions, and conferences, coming from a variety of academic fields, and which have been focused on, or inspired by, Alma Lopez’s work attest to its immeasurable artistic, cultural, political, intellectual, and academic value.

This letter is thus a statement of my support for this visionary conference and its inclusion of Alma Lopez’s exhibition “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas.” At the same time I wish to register my deep concern and adamant opposition to the defamations raised by protestors and to their efforts to undercut and censor art that is so important and significant for Chicanas’ intellectual, political, social, and creative life.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Cristina Serna

Doctoral Candidate

Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara


from Armando Duron
to Nuala Finnegan <nyala.finnegan@ucc.ie>
cc Alma Lopez
date Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 11:48 AM
subject Letter of Support

Dear Ms. Fennigan,

I write in support of the right of internationally recognized artist, Alma Lopez, to show the work of art entitled Our Lady in the upcoming exhibition that is part of the Chicano/a conference to be held at University College Cork.

Perhaps it would be useful for me to identify myself. I am lawyer, a practicing Catholic (I am an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister in my parish of St. Benedict in Montebello, California) and I am a collector of Chicano art of Los Angeles (I have several works by Alma Lopez). In those various capacities I have had several opportunities to ponder the questions posed by Our Lady on numerous occasions and with extensive knowledge of the different ways that this sort of work of art may be interpreted. I have looked into the legal issues and have attended many discussions on censorship, artists’ rights, religious freedom and catechistic rules. But most of all I have prayed on the matter of this particular work as this is not the first time that I have been asked to weigh in on this issue.

I cannot in good conscience find a reason to believe that Our Lady is blasphemous, either within the religious definition contained in Church teachings and canon law, or within the meaning of the Irish Blasphemy law as I understand it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is itself a grave sin.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday (1995), Canon 2148). The New Advent Catholic website defines blasphemy but it goes on to caution: “Nevertheless because of slight or no advertence blasphemy may be either a venial or no sin at all.” A reading of all that Alma Lopez has published on her motivations in creating the piece would reveal plainly that it was never her intent to blaspheme the image of our Lady—intent being an operative word in both canon and civil Irish law.

Further, New Advent quotes from Blackstone, defining civil blasphemy as “exposing [a religion] to contempt or ridicule”. It is here that I would like to interject my first observation that it may well be those that have raised the issue who have unwittingly exposed God and his mother to contempt and ridicule. Many Catholics in Los Angeles along with many non-adherents first saw the image of which we speak in 1999. We understood it as a work of art that allowed the artist to express her point of view. It was not until two years later when it was shown in Santa Fe, New Mexico that controversy was first sparked. The work may well have gone unnoticed beyond artistic circles in the United States if it were not for the ill-fated attempts to silence it. Today, we may safely assume that any effort to censor the work in Ireland can only have the consequence of attracting even more people to view it either at its showing or on the world wide web. It is then that those who would be inclined to view the Virgen of Guadalupe with contempt or ridicule, could be expected to seek to view the work and will gain their satisfaction.

A further point should seem obvious, Our Lady was never intended to be sacred art. I believe that it is merely an artist’s conception of what it means to make her a relevant presence in the world as it exists today. Alma, too is Catholic in her background. Nowhere will you find that she in any way intended, or was inconsiderate of the consequences of the image she was creating. I am reminded of a quote I read last year in a book entitled Theological Aesthetics: “Before the face of God, art is nothing and less than nothing (ut palea, like straw, said Thomas Aquinas)” (p. 313). Alma, the artist created her image as a work of art, with neither the intent to create a sacred image or to cause the subject of her image to be the object of ridicule or contempt. The outrage of which the Irish Blasphemy Laws refer, would not have been caused by anything Alma intended, but by the misinterpretation of her artistic inspiration.

It should also be noted that Our Lady is not the first manifestation of the concept of the Virgen de Guadalupe being interpreted to serve the aesthetic needs of Chicana, or other artists for that matter. Among others, Yolanda Lopez and Ester Hernandez, created works of art that capture for them the true essence of the message that our Virgen gave to Juan Diego in 1531, and which is the fundamental reason why she remains the source of such veneration in Mexico, throughout Latin America, and especially in this case among Chicanas and Chicanos in the United States. That essence is that the Virgen came upon a hill called Tepeyac to let my forefathers and mothers know that she was one of us and that she was here to protect us always. Taking away her relevance to our everyday existence will rob not only us of her protection, but She of her role as the sainted mother of God who comes periodically to remind us of his divine love and of her willingness to intercede on our behalf.



Cc: Alma López


From: Jonathan Godfrey Murphy [mailto:102071541@umail.ucc.ie] 
Sent: 21 June 2011 10:09
To: Finnegan, Nuala
Subject: Mexican Studies Conference

Dear Prof. Finnegan,

I am writing to you as the event organiser to ask that this image of "our lady" not be shown at UCC. The book by Alma Lopez is highly offensive to the Catholic religion and Catholics. UCC should not be providing a platform for such offensive material.

I have been a student at UCC since 2002 and am completing my PhD this year at age 28. I did not pay postgraduate fees to UCC to help sponsor such events. 

I hope that you can understand how Catholics feel about their religion being mocked publicly and will cancel the display of such an offensive image and publicity this book.

Yours sincerely,
Jonathan Murphy




from Tom Miller
to nuala.finnegan@ucc.ie
cc almaloveslupe@gmail.com
date Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Nuala Finnegan
Head of the Hispanic Studies Department
University College Cork, Ireland

Dear Nuala Finnegan,

I write in support of the forthcoming presentation by Alma Lopez and Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

Blasphemous? It would be blasphemous to ban their work and the work of their collesgues from your conference. This is art. Provocative art, of course. One of the goals of art is to provoke conversation, and this has been accomlished quite nicely. If you take it a step further it will reflect poorly on University College Cork and its Hispanic Studies Department.

Some countries ban controversial works. Ireland shouldn't be one of them.


Tom Miller
Adjunct Research Associate
Latin American Area Center
University of Arizona