Thursday, April 5, 2001
Museum to consider withdrawing collage of midriff-baring
News-Journal wire services
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- 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 us."
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, but ended up postponing the meeting because there
was not enough room to hold everyone who wanted to comment.
Museum officials said some 250 people were outside the standing-room-only
meeting of about 300 and were unable to attend.
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 stance.
"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 out.
"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.
Museum regents said they would try to find a larger meeting
space to discuss the issue and reschedule the meeting. By law, they have to
advertise it for 72 hours in advance.
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
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" and "anti-Catholic."
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 a tart."
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."
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On the Net:
Museum of International Folk Art: http://www.state.nm.us/moifa
Brooklyn Museum of Art: http://www.brooklynart.org