Tuesday, April 17, 2001
'Lady' Draws a Crowd
By Morgan Lee
Journal Staff Writer
In three-minute speeches, focus groups and group
prayers, New Mexico residents broadcast their opinions Monday about a state
museum exhibiting "Our Lady," an image of the Virgin Mary in a bathing
suit of rose petals.
Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Parish of Santa Fe opened the daylong forum with a plea for Museum of New
Mexico regents to remove the photo collage by California artist Alma López,
prompting complaints that no "keynote" speech was allowed for proponents
of keeping the artwork in place.
"Who authorized this offense on faith?"
asked Trujillo, who helped design the format for the meeting with city of
Santa Fe officials and the museum administration. "Who authorized this
offense on nuestra raza (our race)?"
Trujillo's opening speech included a rallying
cry for the faithful.
"We're not the powerful; we're not the
rich. We do not belong to museum boards and philanthropic communities,"
Trujillo said. "We're simply the people who have a strong belief in Our
Deacon Trujillo's cousin Marion C. Martinez
is one of four female artists featured in the "Cyber Arte" show
that includes "Our Lady." She urged the Museum of New Mexico to
resist compromising the artistic integrity of the show of devotional art.
Tom Wilson, Museum of New Mexico executive director,
opened the meeting with a plea for tolerance, only to be heavily criticized
later by members of the audience who took to the microphone.
Wilson had apologized last week to Archbishop
Michael Sheehan and others who may have been offended by "Our Lady"
but did not move toward removing it.
"(Wilson) reminds me of a person who beats
their spouse, apologizes and continues their abuse," said Mardell Trujillo
of Santa Fe, a florist who belongs to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
People clutched numbered cards and waited hours
for their turn to speak to a crowd that nearly filled the 1,200-seat hall
to capacity in the morning and trickled away to half the size by afternoon.
Middle school and high school students signed
out from classes to attend and address the crowd on an issue that has divided
New Mexicans, Santa Feans and even family members.
"Our Lady" critics and defenders of
free speech issued dueling Bible quotes; speakers led group prayer from the
podium or led chants of "Take it down!"
Natalie Fitz-Gerald of Santa Fe recalled her
youth under oppressive speech restrictions in South Africa, urging the museum
regents to keep "Our Lady" on display in defense of freedom of speech
and artistic expression.
An art collector and philanthropist, Fitz-Gerald
has been a member for eight years of the board of directors at the Brooklyn
Museum of Art in New York. That museum resisted calls by Catholic leaders
and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to remove a depiction of the Virgin Mary smeared
in elephant dung.
Fitz-Gerald said: "I urge all of you to
realize how lucky you are when you have this extraordinary freedom."
The museum regents are not likely to make any decision for more than a month. In accordance with written museum policies, a nine-member Sensitive Materials Committee must first request to remove the work.
Appeals to the committee's decisions are made
to Wilson and then the regents, with 30-day deadlines in between.
Several speakers during the open-microphone
session objected to the museum spending tax dollars to display "Our Lady."
"We insist that taxes be spent in a morally
correct way, and this certainly is not morally correct," said Sandra
Jiron, who identified herself as a member of Santa Cruz de La Cañada
Parish outside of Española.
Pastor Terry Brennan of Holy Trinity Parish
of Arroyo Seco urged the museum to remove "Our Lady," using as an
example of sensitive restraint a recent decision by Wal-Mart to not sell a
book about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. He compared the museum
treatment of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a sports team
callously using Indian mascots.
"I do not need state funds to deconstruct
my church," Brennan said.
Speeches that followed Deacon Trujillo's were
limited to three minutes, with the microphone often turned off in midsentence.
Four out of seven regents from the Museum of
New Mexico were present so that comments from the meeting would become part
of the public record and the basis for later decisions by the museum.
Several uniformed police officers stood guard
Retired University of New Mexico professor Ida
Carrillo said the police made her feel uncomfortable.
"These are our weapons," she said,
clutching a string of rosary beads, a tiny cross hung from her neck.
Many visitors to the forum posted their comments
on a wall reserved for notes of opinion. One person chastised the Museum of
New Mexico and artist López.
"Alma, your soul is a high price to pay
for money, recognition and attention," one person wrote anonymously.ss
Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Journal