The debate rages on
By ANNE CONSTABLE/The New Mexican
April 17, 2001
Kimberly Rodriguez, 11, was supposed to be attending
Chimayó Elementary School on Monday. Instead, she came to Santa Fe
with her aunt, Lynn Martinez, and stood outside Sweeney Centerholding a sign
saying, "Jesus teaches us purity and modesty, not nudity and vulgarity."
Kimberly said it was more important to attend
the communitywide discussion of a controversial depiction of the Virgin of
Guadalupe in an exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art. "It's
better to be here knowing we're protecting Our Lady," Rodriguez said.
The digital photograph by a California artist shows the Virgen as a middle-aged
Chicana woman draped in rose petals and held aloft by a bare-breasted angel.
"It's just not right," Kimberly declared. "It shows no respect."
Kimberly spoke for the vast majority of the
people who attended the day-long public meeting. More people - by far - came
to proclaim the image by California artist Alma López a sacrilege that
has caused them personal pain and to demand it be removed from the exhibit.
A minority were there to uphold the museum's right to display art that might
offend some in the community.
Many proclaimed their faith by wearing Virgin
of Guadalupe T-shirts or carrying plastic rosaries. They toted traditional
imags of the Blessed Mother and handed out religious pamphlets. Some scrawled
their feelings on a written comment board in the rear of the center.
The city was ready for 1,000 or more people
to attend the meeting of the Board of Regents that had been postponed from
April 4 to allow greater community participation. But there were never more
than 500 to 600 at a time, and attendance dwindled noticeably later in the
day. During the day, 228 signed up for a chance at three minutes at the microphone.
Before the meeting adjourned about 6 p.m., 151 people got to address the audience.
The speeches were passionate, but civil. There
were no physical scuffles. The extra police had little to do but lean against
their squad cars and chat with the public. The nursery was empty. There was
even free pizza available after 1 p.m.
A few people said they appreciated the views
of the other side better after listening to the comments. Peter Cate, a retired
bookstore owner who has lived in Santa Fe for 30 years, said, "I have
a better understanding of the feelings of Hispanic Catholics."
Gerard Martinez, the city's intercultural-affairs
director, said, "We were very happy. The museum was happy. I don't think
anybody left with their minds changed, but they learned a respect for different
points of view."
Four of the seven members of the Board of Regents
of the Museum of New Mexico and Tom Wilson, the director, listened attentively
to the monologue and stopped by the round-table discussions, but no decision
on whether to remove the digital collage is expected for weeks.
That wasn't soon enough for most speakers, including
one who attempted to interest the audience in using his assigned minutes to
chant: "Take it down. Take it down." The group, however, could not
sustain the chant for long.
Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Church made an opening statement. "We who come today in defense of Our
Lady are not the powerful nor the rich. We are the people who have a strong
devotion to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the Mother of God," he
said. Trujillo wascheered.
Randy Forrester, development director for the
Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, received only a smattering of applause
- and a few boos - when he pointed out the Constitution protects artistic
expression, the freedom of a curator to select controversial work and the
freedom to worship.
It would be unconstitutional to bow to pressure
from the Catholic Church, he said. "You don't have to attend this exhibit
if you don't want to," he added.
Anthony Giron from the Española Valley
rejected the artist's explanation that she wanted to represent Mary as a powerful
woman. "Alma López, you don't know what a real woman is - look
around you," he declared. López, however, was not at the meeting.
The Rev. Terry Brennan, pastor of Holy Trinity
Parish in Arroyo Seco, got a standing ovation for lauding Wal-Mart for its
decision not to sell a book by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He called
for a similar decision on Our Lady. "Why can't the Museum of New Mexico
be sensitive and not put that picture up," he demanded.
The Rev. Mike Shea, of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Church, pleaded, "The job of a museum is to educate and to inspire and
even to challenge at times. It's not meant to inflict pain on people. When
that happens, learning stops. We respectfully ask that you would take it down."
Gilbert Martinez said his 90-year-old mother
was waking up at night crying and had told him, "You need to go over
there and stop it."
Many speakers urged the Mexican-born, Hispanic
artist to "learn her faith" and questioned her belief in God, although
López has insisted she meant no disrespect.
Grace Mayer, an artist and teacher, surveyed
the crowd from the balcony. "There are so many issues this community
needs to deal with," she observed. "And we're here talking about
a digitally altered photograph."
Mayer, who has worked in the city's summer-recreation
program, wondered, "Why aren't people offended in this community when
children go hungry, and there's no low-income housing, and those of us who
teach here can't afford to live here?"
©Santa Fe New Mexican 2001
Name: Judy Land-O'Brien
I'm a New Yorker who had the priviledge of living in Taos, NM for a year. I learned many things in that time. The most important was that we must honor and protect the local culture, people and religious heritage. That is what draws us outsiders to New Mexico; its palpable real-life authenticity. Remove the offensive art. It's an unwelcomed guest.