Wednesday, May 2, 2001 - 9:11AM PST (2198)

Bikini-clad Madonna sparks anger

A row over a picture of the Virgin Mary wearing a floral bikini has broken out in the US state of New Mexico. Catholic activists have described the digital collage, by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, as disgusting and insulting and said they want it removed.

It is being exhibited as part of a show in the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. Archbishop Michael Sheehan said the work, Our Lady, depicted Mary "as if she were a tart".

But Lopez has said she sees nothing offensive about showing the Virgin Mary as a modern day woman. Artist Alma Lopez wonders what the fuss is about "This is very conservative," she said. "Even if I look really hard at Our Lady, I don't see what is so offensive, honestly. I see beautiful bodies that are gifts from our creator."

Packed meeting
Hundreds of angry protesters showed up for a public hearing on Wednesday held by the Museum of New Mexico board on whether the picture should be removed.

But the crowd was too large for the venue, leaving more than 300 outside chanting "cancel the meeting."

More than 400 crammed inside but the board called off the meeting after about half an hour when police said they feared possible violence by those outside.

Board members said the discussion was ill-timed, coming just before 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.