Museum director defends `Our Lady'
March 28, 2001

Museum of New Mexico Director Tom Wilson Tuesday made a spirited defense of the decision to include Our Lady, a bikini-clad depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in a show at the Museum of International Folk Art.

``This is a respectful work of art in a well-thought-out exhibition, and therefore, the piece should remain on display,'' Wilson said.

``We do not think one group of New Mexicans should be able to dictate to another group what they should be thinking, what they should be reading and what they should be seeing. And it is not fulfilling the mission of the museum as an educational institution to censor works of art.''

But there are ``countervailing'' points of view, Wilson acknowledged, and all sides will be heard next week when the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents, the system's policy-making group, meets to discuss the controversial image.

The meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 4 in the auditorium of the Museum of International Folk Art at 706 Camino Lejo. In addition to the regents, the artist, AlmaLópez, plans to be there to explain her artistic expression.

Wilson said the museum was arranging for two facilitators to be present to conduct the meeting and to ``try to make it a reasoned dialogue.''

He pointed out that around the time the exhibit opened - Feb. 25 - the museum held a forum for four artists whose work is included in the exhibit, ``Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology.''

The Board of Regents meeting next week, he said, is ``an extension of that.''

``The purpose is to air all views, but for the people responsible for the Museum of New Mexico to be able to hear those competing views,'' Wilson explained.

Wilson pointed out that a number of people who have weighed in on the matter have not seen the exhibition. ``That is directly akin to trying to stop a book from being published even though nobody's read it,'' he said. Wilson invited people to visit the museum and see the picture for themselves before making a judgment.

Visual images are powerful, Wilson conceded. ``Here we have an Hispanic artist, a Catholic. She is attempting a respectful reinterpretation. She meant no disrespect. She was trying to show other characteristics of the Virgin. And that point of view is wholly within the mission of the Museum of International Folk Art.''

Copyright 2001 Santa Fe New Mexican


Reader Opinions

Name: Paul Glickman
If a person inside a community (Alma is hispanic and catholic) wishes to characterize aspects of that community... it's fair, it's free speech and it's essential. However, when others, outside the community, do things that offend the community then a line is crossed. Not a legal line, but a line of civility. (e.g. When baseball teams use indian names, likenesses, etc. When non-blacks use the N word when refering to a black )

Name: Michael
Congratulations Alma! If you wanted to use your artistic gifts to hurt and offend people that have a faith and devotion then you have succeeded. Perhaps your next work should make fun of the people who died in Jewish concentration camps and maybe have an exhibit mocking a black slave. Art is no longer art when it harms another at their expense, and freedom of speech is not freedom of speech when it creates a riot. It is very sad that you would want to create something that you know can only bring inspires no one to degrade a beloved figure who is so near to the hearts of a billion people. Think to yourself if this art helped anyone other than you and the exhibit hall. I don't think you can say yes honestly. You are on our prayer list Alma.

Name: Robert Ritchie
I consider Alma Lopez's computer image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a bikini to be shameful and blasphemous. The Virgin Mary was the most pure and modest human being ever, a true vessel of honor. In her, God realized the fullest expression of the splendor of His grace. She was the perfect human being, sacred and untouchable. To protray her in a way that insults her purity and modesty is a terrible blasphemy in my book. It seems impossible to me that the author does not feel the pangs of conscience -- the worm that never dies -- by portraying the most pure Virgin in an impure way. I reject the exhibit with all the figer of my soul. May the merciful Virgin work the conversion of Alma Lopez and all who suport her work, and bring them back -- after reparation and penance -- to the true understanding of devotion to Mary. Robert Ritchie

Name: Lizette Sanchez

With all the hub bub that is going on. I don't understand why people are making such a big fuss. I don't get it. I think its beautiful. Before you make your deciosons of hating this image of "Our Lady." Please go to the exhibit and form your own opinion. Not the opinion of people who are telling you to hate it. Be your own person!! I want to know how many actually went to the muesuem to see the exhibit? Its a beautiful image and I'm glad its there for all to see Alma's incredible mastery of art. Alma, looking forward to seeing more of your creations!!!

Name: David Fitelson
Dear Ann Constable: Would you please correct your oft repeated, erroneous, slanderous and inflammatory allegation that Alma Lopez's image of the Virgin is "bikini clad." Whatever those roses are supposed to represent (possibly a garment, but just as possibly a garland), they are certainly not a bikini. It is time for you to learn what a bikini is, and what it is not. The contour and design of the Virgin's adornment is clearly that of swimsuits worn by such Godesses as the late Rita Hayworth, before anyone had heard of Bikini atoll, let alone the abbreviated outfit that was named for it. Thank you so much.

Name: Joy
Has anyone examined why the artist made the work? Might it have something to do with the fact that "Our Lady" is the patron of the downtrodden, the disenfranchised? Who better to put a personal take on the image than someone of Alma Lopez's stature? It is refreshing to see a Chicana Catholic woman so elegantly present the true beauty and humanity of a soul who would herself appreciate being so accessible to at least half the world (women). What are we afraid of?

Name: Darla

I think the image of Our Lady is disgusting and shameful. Only sick people like you will agree with you. Shame on you!!!!!!!!!!!!

Name: John
It's a sad day when a person has to do something like this to gain attention. Isn't this the same excuse that the children doing the school shootings have used. They we just trying to get someones attention to the fact that they were being bullied. I'm tired of people using negative acts to gain attention. I'm happy to see that someone through in the race card though, because we all no that without noteriety or playing the race card, no minority could ever make a name for themselves. Thank you Mother Teresa your goodness got you nowhere. Maybe we should replace Marys image with Mr. Wilsons paternal mothers. I wonder if his opinion would be the same.

Name: Laura
Egads, what rock do you people live under? How can you possibly compare this exhibit to killings in schools and poisoning children's minds? How many murders by paint brush have there been? You make me laugh. Perhaps it is the unwelcome opening of the mind that is causing you such pain and FEAR.

Name: Becky
Art is an expression, a perspective. Not everyone shares the same ones. What a boring world this would be if we did. There would be no color to the rainbow. You have the right to exercise the "tv remote" option at any time. If you don't like what's on the channel, change it. If you don't care for the particular piece of art, don't go see it. But don't deny the rest of us the opportunity to explore other ideas and aesthetic responses.

Name: Anthony Armijo
Let's get back to the real reason we have museums: they are places where new ideas are welcomed. The arguement that publicly funded institutions should not display anything controversial flies in the face of reason. Why do we have public institutions? They are for everyone, for ALL the people, even those who have ideas and beliefs different from our own. There is no better place for differences and controversy than a public museum.

Name: E. Pettus

If, as a protestant, I am offended by images of Day of the Dead Celebrations, I simply do not have to look when I go to the museum. If, as a Christian of any of several denominations, I did not believe that graven images of any kind should be displayed, the same choice applies. In a public museum there will always be material some find offensive--that is because this is not a Religiously dictated society, but a Democracy, where all views are to be respected, but simply an image's disturbing an element of Society cannot be a reason for censorship. Also, the outfitis really not a bikini, as the inflamatory press keeps insisting. The Virgin Mary has been shown in various degrees of nakedness in works of art approved by the Catholic Church over the past seven or eight centuries, with no deleterious effect so far, so, perhaps we should educate outselves a bit about art.

Name: Michael
Anyone who hasn't seen Alma's "Our Lady" (note that she does not call it "Our Lady of Guadalupe") in situ at the Museum of International Folkart but has only seen it on the news or in the papers, hasn't seen it in context. Of the eight or so works by Ms. Lopez in the CyberArte exhibit, four belong to a series containing very traditional depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe. All of the artist's works contain elements of religious iconography (a staple in much of the world's folk heritage and art) which leads me to believe that she values the religious aspects of her culture tremendously. Perhaps she does struggle personally with issues of faith but who the hell doesn't? It is not unreasonable nor callous of her to attempt to work out a personal relationship to her religion through an artistic medium. When I first saw "Our Lady" I noticed that aspects of the more traditional depictions of Our Lady of Guadalupe are combined with elements of other cultures seemingly far removed from us as well as elements that we may regard as being more obviously contemporary. These include the photographic image of a (now) 21st century woman who, though somewhat defiant in attitude and somewhat sexual, is quite real and quite human. And as for Alma's assertion that the image is meant to represent a woman who is strong and, I would say, willfull rather than than selfish, why not give the artist the benefit of the doubt? Afterall, she created this piece. Her claim is born out upon careful regard of the work itself: the woman occupying the center of the artwork is cloaked by the image of an Aztec stone carving or relief. Quite likely, it is a depiction of a warrior or Aztec hero. I say this because such figures are mentioned in Alma's writings and can be seen in her other work. It is another element she has very skillfully crafted into the piece and lends credence to the idea that her work (all of the work she has on display at the Folkart) reveals a legacy that didn't begin with the incorporation of what was once Mexican territory into what is now a part of the United States. It didn't begin with the incorporation of the border patrol. It didn't begin with Juan Diego or his vision, however real, however profoundly affecting. Nor did it begin with the first European contact with the peoples of the Americas. But all of these things have become a part of that legacy which, by necessity, has given people a culture not immune to influence or change. This does not need to be looked upon as a travesty. A culture lives and breathes when it is injected with new wine. Without allowing the forms of the past to be translated into a contemporary idiom, a culture dies. Some might take take offense to traditional depictions of Our Lady of Sorrow with her pierced heart because of the violence it entails. Using their own words against the artist's detactors I ask: who out there would want to see their own mother depicted in such a manner? With wounded heart and swords protruding from her breast? Sound ridiculous? You bet.

Name: C Maes

Good for Alma! In a city where there are many artists struggling to make a name for themselves, shemanaged to generate publicity for herself and her art. Now we all know who she is.