Museum board will reconvene to consider bikini-clad Virgin Mary artwork

By Richard Benke

April 5, 2001

SANTA FE, N.M. – When regents of the Museum of New Mexico met to discuss a bikini-clad Virgin Mary collage, the discussion wasn't about sex or sacrilege. It was about seating.

Wednesday's regents' meeting was overwhelmed by some 750 people wanting to debate whether museum officials should remove a bare-midriff image of Mary from the state-funded Museum of International Folk Art.

Hundreds of demonstrators, held outside by fire marshals, chanted "Cancel the Meeting!" until the regents unanimously voted to do just that before anyone had a chance to testify.

Board members said the discussion was likely ill-timed, coming just before Catholics celebrate Easter Sunday.

"Holy Week is Holy Week plus the fact that we want to make sure everything is done correctly," said board President Wood Arnold, explaining why the meeting was rescheduled to the week of April 15.

"Our Lady," by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, has come under attack by many Roman Catholics, including Archbishop Michael Sheehan who said the work depicts Mary "as if she were a tart" and should be removed.

Some have asked for the artwork to be removed immediately, but Arnold refused, saying the move would require a vote.

The Lopez retablo includes a photographic image of a model representing the Virgin of Guadalupe, dressed in a floral two-piece outfit that resembles a bikini bathing suit.

But Lopez, who met reporters after the meeting, doesn't believe "bikini" is a fair description.

"This is very conservative," she said.

Lopez added she saw nothing offensive in showing the image of a strong, modern woman, perhaps outspoken, perhaps even revolutionary.

"Even if I look really hard at 'Our Lady' and the works of many Chicana artists, I don't see what is so offensive, honestly. I see beautiful bodies that are gifts from our creator."