Committee on Sensitive Materials Disputed 'Our Lady' will stay, panel rules

By Deborah Baker

The Associated Press      

SANTA FE -- A collage of the Virgin of Guadalupe clad in a flowery swimsuit will remain on display at a state-run museum.      

The Committee on Sensitive Materials recommended today that "Our Lady" by Los Angeles artist Alma LĘpez remain on display at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The "Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology" exhibit of which it is a part is to remain up until next February.      

"The committee's recommendation will stand unless it's appealed," said Tom Wilson, director of the Museum of New Mexico, under which the folk art museum falls. An appeal would go to Wilson.

"I think the committee has worked very diligently and very hard," he said. "They've reviewed hundreds of documents."

Many Roman Catholic parishioners and Archbishop Michael Sheehan have condemned the image as sacrilegious and insensitive and demanded its removal. Other people among about 600 who spoke at an all-day forum in Santa Fe in April said removing the piece would be censorship and would violate the artist's rights.

The committee, in a letter to Wilson, said the artists selected for the exhibit "have rights under the First Amendment to have their works displayed free of censorship or other interference."

The nine-member committee also said the Museum of International Folk Art meant no disrespect in exhibiting art that presents ideas derived from religious imagery.

The collage includes a photograph of a model portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe, a representation of the Virgin Mary, wearing a computer-generated two-piece floral outfit that leaves her midriff bare.

Lopez, herself a Catholic, said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman -- and meant no disrespect.

The Guadalupe phenomenon originated in 1531 when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to Juan Diego, a Christian Aztec, three or four times near Mexico City. As word of the apparition spread, miracles came to be associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, and her image now appears practically everywhere, from items found in shops specializing in religious art to tattoos and decorations on lowrider automobiles.

More than 35 New Mexico churches are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.