from the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission

A SANTA MONICA ARTIST has stirred a storm of protest for her depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a young Latina in the buff, according to an April 4 Los Angeles Times report. Artist Alma Lopez, in a digital print, depicted a young woman with bouquets of roses placed like a bikini around her body, and standing in a salacious pose on a half moon held up a female, bare-breasted angel. Rays of the sun encompass the woman's body-like a halo. The print has been displayed in Los Angeles, but it was not until it appeared in an exhibit at the New Mexico International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe that it drew any protest.

In mid March, the International Museum of Folk Art began to receive letters protesting the Lopez exhibit. On March 23, a crowd of 25, mostly Latinos, protested in front of the state office building. On Saturday, March 30, 200 people held a prayer vigil. Finally the archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael Sheehan, issued a press release that called for the removal of the piece and demanded an apology from the museum's board of regents.

In his press release, Archbishop Sheehan noted that he had found out about the controversy over Lopez's piece after he returned from a pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes. "To depict the Virgin Mary in a floral bikini held aloft by a bare breasted angel is to be insulting, even sacrilegious, to the many thousands of New Mexicans who have deep religious devotion to Guadalupe," wrote Sheehan. The archbishop noted that "such a picture has no place in a tax-supported public museum.

"As the Archbishop of Santa Fe I find it offensive that the Catholic symbol of Guadalupe has been so disrespectfully treated. In the recent past the Virgin Mary has been shown in contemporary art smeared with elephant dung and she has been depicted as a golden haired Barbie doll. Now this! I doubt that the Jewish community would be patient with such a mistreatment of symbols sacred to their faith. I wish those who want to paint controversial art would find their own symbols to trash and leave the Catholic ones alone."

Directors of the museum insist that the image should remain on display, and they have posted a bilingual sign warning viewers that some images in the digital art display might be offensive. Alma Lopez expressed her surprise at the protests. "I feel that maybe the archbishop doesn't quite understand where I'm coming from," she told the Times. Lopez, who, the Times noted, is a lesbian, said of her image, "I was wanting to find a meaningful connection with La Virgen de Guadalupe. I am relating her to the women in my life, my mom, my grandma, my aunt. They had to be strong to survive, like Christ's mother." She did not mention whether these women also dress in floral bikinis.

Lopez said what inspired her depiction of the Guadalupe was the musings of one Sandra Cisneros, a writer, who wondered what Guadalupe looked like under her robes. "Roses are what you'd see if you took off her robes," Lopez remembered thinking.

Protestors at the meeting decried the assault on New Mexico's Catholic culture, represented by Lopez's Guadalupe image. Phyllis Garde of Espanola, New Mexico, asked, "Why do we have to pay for the persecution of our beliefs?" José Villegas of Santa Fe said, "what you consider 'devotion' in this type of art is not what my generation was taught by our parents, grandparents and ancestors."

A more influential voice, perhaps, than the protestors was Lloyd Cotsen of Los Angeles, former chairman of Neutrogena Corporation, who has donated his $4.5 million folk art collection and has financed a building to put it in. Cotsen wrote the museum regents in late March asking that they keep Lopez in their exhibit.