BEYOND THE NORTHWEST
Bikini-clad Virgin Mary draws fire
Associated PressSANTA FE, NM The archbishop
of Santa Fe says a bikini-clad version of the Virgin Mary shown in a folk
art museum depicts her "as if she were a tart" and should be removed.
But Alma Lopez, the Los Angeles artist who designed
the photo collage on a computer, says she doesn't see what's offensive about
showing the Virgin of Guadalupe as a modern woman, "a strong woman, like
The regents of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa
Fe on Wednesday began considering whether to remove the work from the state-funded
Museum of International Folk Art. The forum attracted a standing-room-only
crowd of about 300.
The collage depicts Mary in a midriff-baring
two-piece outfit covered with flowers. Mary stands barefoot, hands on hips
with elbows akimbo and chin up in a pose that could be interpreted as a defiant
"It's a challenge to old images people
have in their mind about Mary," said Jacqueline Orsini Dunnington, an
independent expert who has written award-winning books on the history of the
Virgin of Guadalupe and on the Virgin Mary. Our Lady of Guadalupe was a vision
of Mary that appeared to a peasant in Mexico in 1531.
Archbishop Michael Sheehan said he found Lopez's
image insulting and expressed frustration with Catholic images being singled
"No one would dream of putting Martin Luther
King in speedos and desecrating his memory by putting him in some outlandish
outfit. I wouldn't want anyone to do that," Sheehan said. "But somehow
it seems open season on Catholic symbols."
In recent years, Mary has also been shown "as
a golden-haired Barbie doll," he added.
In 1999, the city-funded Brooklyn Museum of
Art invoked the ire of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when they exhibited
a painting of the Virgin Mary that featured sexually explicit cutouts dappled
with elephant dung.
On Tuesday, Giuliani appointed a 20-member "decency
commission" to judge the morality of public art after the Brooklyn Museum
featured a 5-foot-tall photograph of a nude black woman portraying Jesus surrounded
by disciples, titled "Yo Mama's Last Supper."
Giuliani called the photo "disgusting"
Both Sheehan and Giuliani argue the works are
particularly offensive given that they are displayed in state-funded institutions.
"I don't believe I'm promoting censorship," Sheehan said. "My objection to the picture is not on the basis of morals, as if the bishop was disapproving of a particular movie ...
My objection is on the basis of the insult to
the religious beliefs of a very large number of people that look at the Virgin
Mary as being very holy. She is depicted in a floral bikini as if she were
Lopez, in a written statement Monday, said she
grew up in Los Angeles with images of the Virgen, as the word is spelled in
Spanish, and that Mary belongs to everybody.
"The Virgen is everywhere. She's on tattoos,
stickers, posters, air freshener cans, shirts and corner store murals as well
as church walls," she wrote.
Lopez feels under attack by Sheehan and Jose
Villegas, a Santa Fe resident who said he was outraged by the bikini and by
the bare-breasted female angel included in the digital retablo.
"It violated the sacred boundaries of our
culture," Villegas has said.
Dunnington argued that the Virgin was invoked
as a revolutionary icon for Mexican independence in 1810. That invocation
was expanded later to include all ethnic and racial groups and genders.
"If she is an icon of freedom, the protesters then have to accord the artist equal liberty," Dunnington said. "There has to be the right to freedom of expression. That is what she has stood for."