April 17, 2001

Museum regents hear comments on controversial collage
By The Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. - Some people pleaded against censorship, but many more urged the Museum of New Mexico yesterday to remove a bare-midriff depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe that they said was disrespectful and offensive.

Four of the seven Museum of New Mexico regents heard the discussion of a photo collage by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, part of a display called "Cyber Arte: Where Tradition Meets Technology," at the state Museum of International Folk Art.

It may be weeks before the regents decide whether to remove "Our Lady," a digital image of the Virgin Mary in a two-piece floral outfit.

An estimated 600 people, many of them Roman Catholics, flooded into the 1,200-seat Sweeney Convention Center auditorium, debating in the aisles and breaking off into discussion groups in upstairs conference rooms. By noon, more than 100 had been given three minutes each to have their say.

There was a lot of cheering, very little booing and no violence at the meeting, rescheduled from a session canceled two weeks ago because there wasn't enough room for everyone who wanted to speak.

Museum of New Mexico Director Tom Wilson last week sent a letter to Archbishop Michael Sheehan saying the museum did not intend to offend and would apologize if people were offended.

Deacon Juan Barajas, speaking for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, told yesterday's meeting: "The only apology I accept: Take it down."

Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Fe said Lopez's work has caused splits in families and among friends.

"We all have an opportunity to begin a healing process," he said, urging the regents to "take a risk - take this piece out so this healing process can begin."

But Randy Forrester said removing it would be unconstitutional.

If there's one thing the United States stands for, it's freedom, and that includes freedom to hang museum exhibits, he said.

"It also means the freedom to worship in the church of your choice," Forrester said, adding that some people want to take away those freedoms.

Toby Bransky of Santa Fe, speaking at one of the discussion groups in which about a dozen people sat in a circle, said not everyone sees the world the same way.

"I feel it is her (Lopez's) point of view and we have to respect that," Bransky said. "Our strength is our diversity - our respect for our diversity."

Maria Belen Guadalupe Rios de Rodriguez of Santa Fe wore a costume from her native San Luis de la Paz in Mexico as she and her daughter, Catalina, 7, held up more traditional images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and urged that Lopez's image be taken down.

Santa Fe native Gloria Mendoza demanded the removal "of this amateur computer piece of art," adding, "We insist that you honor and respect her (the Virgin of Guadalupe) in his city of holy faith."

Erlinda Quintana of Santa Cruz de la Canada near Espanola called the piece a desecration.

"Give us back what is rightfully ours and we will leave you in peace," Quintana said.

However, Santa Fe resident Connie Mississippi said Lopez "is no less a citizen" for having produced the work.

"This attempt to remove the work is censorship," Mississippi said.

And Maria Teresa Marquez of Albuquerque urged the regents to "resist censorship," saying, "Censorship brings about more censorship."

Elmer Maestas of northern New Mexico contended it isn't censorship.

"All we are asking is to correct a wrong," Maestas said. "The board made a mistake (in allowing the work) and all we want is to correct it."

That's something the "elite cafe latte arty types"don't understand, he said.

Regents Chairman Wood "Mike" Arnold said it could be two to three weeks before an appeal process runs its course and regents vote on the image's fate.

He asked the museum's nine-member Committee on Sensitive Materials to look at the work, listen the public comment, then recommend what to do.

Sheehan has urged removal of the work he said depicted the Virgin Mary "as if she were a tart."

Lopez, a Catholic herself, has said the outfit is too conservative for a bikini. She said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman, and meant no disrespect.