March 28, 2001 13:01 Hrs (IST)

New Mexico museum defends bikini-clad Virgin Mary

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico : A New Mexico museum defended a depiction of a bikini-clad Virgin Mary, after the archbishop of Santa Fe added his voice to attacks from Roman Catholic activists against the artwork.
Museum officials were due to meet next week to hear public comment on "Our Lady," a digital photograph that also includes a bare-breasted angel. The angel is holding up the Virgin Mary in a stance reminiscent of traditional pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art said it had no plans to remove the picture from a yearlong special exhibition, as demanded by protesters.
"We certainly did not anticipate such a strong reaction," museum director Joyce Ice said. "And I would hope that people are willing to continue their discussions in regard to the role of art and how it plays into community values and the freedom of expression."
Archbishop Michael Sheehan weighed in on Monday with a statement criticizing the picture as "yet another trashing" of Catholicism" that "shows the insensitivity to a large segment of Santa Feans and imprudence in the administration of a state funded institution.
"In the recent past the Virgin Mary has been shown in contemporary art smeared with elephant dung and she has been depicted as a golden haired Barbie doll. Now this!" Sheehan said.

The archbishop was referring to a Brooklyn, New York, museum's 1999 depiction of the Virgin Mary made with elephant dung, and a combination Barbie doll and Virgin of Guadalupe exhibited in Santa Fe.
"Our Lady" is part of an exhibition called "Cyber Arte: Where Tradition Meets Technology," exploring the use of technology in art depicting traditional images and themes.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a widely venerated symbol to Catholics who believe she appeared to a Mexican peasant in the 16th century and is a representation of the Virgin Mary.
California artist Alma Lopez, who says she is a practicing Catholic, said her piece was not meant as an affront but rather was intended to explore the image of the Virgin Mary as a strong female figure.

Lopez said she clothed Guadalupe in a rose-covered bikini to invoke traditional symbolism from the story of her appearance, in which the Virgin Mary told a peasant to pick roses near the hill where she appeared and take them to the clergy as a sign of her apparition.

Lopez said the breasts of the angel below Mary were supposed to represent nurturing.
The outcry from the Catholic community included a protest last week outside the office of the state Cultural Affairs Office by about 30 demonstrators headed by Santa Fe community activist Jose Villegas.
"For them to be doing this in the name of freedom of speech, it doesn't cut it," Villegas said. "It's defamation of religion and you can't be doing that."


Related Stories

Feb. 17, 2001 15:10 Hrs (IST)
Christ as woman? Anti-Catholic, say critics of photo exhibit
Vasantha Arora

NEW YORK: A photograph depicting Christ's last supper, which features Jesus as a naked black woman, has raised a furor here.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani described it as "outrageous and disgusting" and threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court and seek legislative measures to cut funding to museums that misused state aid.

The picture is part of an exhibition of the work of black photographers that opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art February 16. Giuliani has said he will establish a committee to look at standards of decency in publicly subsidized institutions.

But the author of the work, Renee Cox, has demanded to know why Christ should not be depicted as a woman, telling her critics to "get over it".

"Why can't a woman be Christ? We are the givers of life," she said. In Yo Mama's Last Supper, Cox faces forward, holding her arms wide open and is surrounded by 12 black apostles sitting or standing. Another exhibit, by Willie Middlebrook, depicts a topless woman crucified.

Giuliani said the exhibits were "anti-Catholic," adding that he had asked city lawyers to explore legal action against the museum.

It is not the first time the museum has clashed with Giuliani. Two years ago he tried unsuccessfully to remove the museum's funding, following the display of a picture of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung in the Sensation exhibition by British artists.

On that occasion, a federal court judge ruled that the city had violated the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression under the Constitution and Giuliani lost his case. But this time Giuliani is threatening to take the current case to the Supreme Court.
-- India Abroad News Service


April 06, 2001 17:47 Hrs (IST)
Art groups decry New York mayor's 'decency panel'

NEW YORK: A coalition of artists, academics, free speech advocates and politicians on Thursday denounced a new "decency panel" formed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in response to a work of art that depicts Jesus as a nude black woman.

Giuliani put together the panel to advise museums receiving public funding on decency standards for art displayed in their galleries after becoming outraged by a Renee Cox work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

A year ago, the combative mayor lost a court battle when he pulled funding for the same museum over its "Sensation" exhibit, which included a work depicting the Virgin Mary that was daubed with elephant dung.

Cox attended to decry the 20-member commission.

"It's a sign of our times," Cox, whose "Yo Mama's Last Supper" triggered the latest salvo from City Hall, said at a news conference at the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"I'm just the conduit. ... The real issue is ... if this can happen in New York, the cultural capital of the world, it sends a signal to the rest of the country. That's my biggest fear."

Lawyers said on Thursday that Giuliani had lost 20 of 21 First Amendment court cases during his two terms as mayor, and advocates said the mayor was pushing the envelope again.

"He has the gall to start all over again," said artist Hans Haacke, "as if he had never been slapped down."
Actress Phyllis Newman of the television show "100 Center Street" said, "I find the mayor's actions and this so-called decency panel puzzling and frightening."


Announcing the group on Tuesday, Giuliani said the news media were stoking fears by calling the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission a decency panel.

"You literally have intimidated people from doing this who wanted to do it because they're too afraid of what you're going to write about them," he told reporters.

The commission is made up of business leaders; attorneys, including the mayor's own divorce lawyer, Raoul Felder; academics; religious leaders; and three artists, including Constance Del Vecchio Maltese, the wife of State Sen. Serphin Maltese, a founder of the state Conservative Party.

Some at the news conference suggested the mayor's outrage was less than sincere, motivated more by political considerations than anything else.

And many said that Giuliani, who often has complained about art that is offensive to Roman Catholics, had failed to include Catholic Church leaders on the panel.

City Council President and mayoral candidate Peter Vallone, a self-described devout Roman Catholic, said, "We should never be placed in a situation where we prescreen any art," denouncing the notion of the "government as censor or culture cop."

Cox said she was puzzled by the controversy. "We're supposed to be created in the image of God," so as a black woman she depicted Jesus that way, she said.

Cox said Leonardo da Vinci had used his friends, including his male lover, as models for "The Last Supper," which she said was now considered "the end-all, be-all" depiction of that event.

Actor William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit educational organization that deals with arts and censorship issues, said in a statement that "decency commissions throughout history have existed only in dictatorships, whether in Spain during the Inquisition, in Germany during the Nazi regime (or) in the Soviet Union." Reuters