The Artist ofÊ "Our Lady" ------------------------------------------------------------------------ by Alma Lopez
Please think of me and send me really good and supportive energy at 12 noon Los Angeles time or 10am New Mexico time this Wednesday, April 4. Thank you,
On Wednesday, April 4 at 10am at the Museum of International of Folk Art, the governing board of New Mexico's state museum system will consider removing an artwork that has offended some Roman Catholics in New Mexico. CyberArte is scheduled through October 28, 2001, and features four contemporary Chicana/Latina/Hispana artists who combine traditional "folk" elements with current computer technology.
The "offending" work, "Our Lady" is a photo-based digital print on exhibition in a museum, and not an object of devotion in a church. It is an image that could possibly arouse conversations on topics such as use of cultural images in art, gender issues, or the use of technology as a tool for creative expression.
This work features performance artist Raquel Salinas as a strong Virgen dressed in roses and cultural activist Raquel Gutierrez as a nude butterfly angel and was inspired by Sandra Cisneros' essay, "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess."
Raquel Salinas, Raquel Gutierrez and I grew up in Los Angeles with the image of the Virgen in our homes and community. The Virgen is everywhere. She's on tattoos, stickers, posters, air freshener cans, shirts and corner store murals, as well as church walls. Many, including myself, feel that there is nothing anyone can do to change how the original image of the Virgen de Guadalupe is generally perceived.
Catholic or not,Chicana/Latina/Hispana visual, literary or performance artists grew up with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe, therefore entitling us to express our relationship to her in any which way relevant to our own experiences. Many artists, such as Yolanda Lopez, Ester Hernandez, Santa Barraza, Delilah Montoya, Yreina Cervantez and Raquel Salinas have shared their own personal experiences using the Virgen de Guadalupe.
More than twenty years ago, artist Yolanda Lopez and Ester Hernandez were threatened and attacked for portraying the Virgen in a feminist and liberating perspective. Yolanda Lopez received bomb threats for her portrayal of the Virgen wearing low-heeled shoes. In this image the Virgen walks with her head bowed, hands clasped wearing a dress below the knee. I think that people were upset because the Virgen was able to walk.
The protest against "Our Lady" is organized and led by community activist Jose Villegas. New Mexico Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan has joined him, calling the artwork sacrilegious." Mr. Villegas' first and only attempt to communicate with me was through a threatening email. One week later, on television I saw the rally he organized against the museum.
Mr. Villegas and the Archbishop see the "Our Lady" digital print with exposed legs and belly, and a female angel's breasts as "offensive."
Yet I know, that many churches, in Mexico and Europe and the United States, house images of nude male angels and most prominently, a Crucifixion practically naked except for a skimpy loincloth.
When I see "Our Lady" as well as the works portraying the Virgen by many Chicana artists, I see an alternative voice expressing the multiplicities of our lived realities. I see myself living a tradition of Chicanas who because of cultural and gender oppression, have asserted our voice. I see Chicanas creating a deep and meaningful connection to this revolutionary cultural female image. I see Chicanas who understand faith.
Even if I look really hard at my work and the works of many Chicanas artists, I don't see what is so offensive. I see beautiful bodies that are gifts from our creator. I see nurturing breasts. I see the strong nurturing mothers of all of us. I am forced to wonder how men like Mr. Villegas and the Archbishop are looking at my work that they feel it is "blasphemy" and "the devil." I wonder how they see bodies of women. I wonder why they think that our bodies are so ugly and perverted that they cannot be seen in an art piece in a museum?
For me, this experience at times has been confusing and upsetting, primarily because Mr.Villegas self-righteously believes that he has the authority to dictate how a particular image should be interpreted. He believes he can tell me how to think. I am a woman who has grown up with the Virgen. Who is this man to tell me what to think and relate to her? It scares me to see so many people organized to attack me. It makes me sad that this has been a divisive issue especially along gender lines, to see brothers and sisters fighting, and to see politicians trying to use this as an excuse to cut funds in art and education.
Although, there are people like Mr. Villegas who are offended by the "Our Lady" digital print, not everyone agrees that it should be removed. Emails, calls, and letters of support have included Catholics, Latinas/os, artists, educators, and various communities throughout the United States. This experience has also evoked an outpouring of positive feedback and support, which has affirmed my belief that there really isn't anything wrong with this image. So many people have emailed me and contacted the museum expressing their concern over these attacks. I want to thank everyone who has been wonderfully supportive.
Perhaps, time and place play prominent roles in this controversy. This is Lent, a time of devotion between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Santa Fe is a place with deep spiritual and traditional roots and the Museum of International Folk Art is the place where many images of saints reside.
I hope that my digital print "Our Lady" is not removed from the exhibition. I know that not everyone likes my work, but no one person has the right to remove it and therefore prevent others from seeing it. This museum like other museums are sites of learning. They are not churches or sites of spiritual devotion. I don't think there should be any threats to funding or museum directors because I have exhibited my work here.
As artists, museums and allies, we need everyone to know that we are also taxpayers. We need to tell our political representatives that we also decide what to do with our vote and our money. We need to tell everyone that we oppose censorship, and funding cuts to art and education.
If my work is removed, that means that I have no right to express myself as an artist and a woman. It means that there must be something wrong and sexually perverted with my female body. It means that it's ok for men to look at our bodies as ugly. It means that as Chicanas we can only be sexualized or only be virgins. It means that only men can tell us how to look at the Virgen. It means that we cannot look upon the Virgen as an image of a strong woman like us.
Special thanks to every person who wrote beautiful and affirming emails and letters of support. My heart is full with love because of you.
Alma Lopez Los Angeles - April 2, 2001
1. If you are in town, and able to, please come by the museum on weds April 4 at 10am (New Mexico time). Or contact someone who can.
2. To email letters of support, please send them to the curator and director who are very supportive so that they can use them as support for the exhibition. firstname.lastname@example.org Dr. Joyce Ice, Director TMNunn@moifa.org Dr. Tey Marianna Nunn, Curator of Contemporary Hispano/Latino Collections
3. To contact the museum: www.moifa.org or (505) 476- 1200
4. For more information: http://chicanas.com/alma.html http://home.earthlink.net/~almalopez http://www.netcolony.com/arts/artfullee/almalopez/moifa.htm http://www.netcolony.com/arts/artfullee/almalopez/lopezemail1.htm http://members.nerve.com/artisticlee/files/churchart.htm http://www.aztlannet.com http://www.abqjournal.com http://www.abqtrib.com http://www.sfnewmexican.com
Join the Discussion
Thanks for the insight. Speaking for myself, I'd rather be respected than revered. If the majority of machos looked upon women as persons rather than property, perhaps we wouldn't need any "protecting"?
While I cannot imagine the virgen standing like that, it's not so bad, however the smaller image showing her breasts is uncalled for and in my opinion could have been covered with flowers like the larger one was.
Note: This meeting has been rescheduled for April 16th on Monday.