Alburquerque Journal

Saturday, June 16, 2001

'Our Lady' Decision Appealed

By Morgan Lee
Journal Staff Writer

Critics of "Our Lady," an image of the Virgin Mary clothed in flower garlands, have appealed a decision by the Museum of New Mexico to keep the artwork on display.

An appeal filed by Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish asks the museum to remove the entire exhibit containing "Our Lady" and contends that the Museum of New Mexico violated its own policies by not considering the spiritual concerns of the Roman Catholic Community in northern New Mexico.

California Artist Alma Lopéz has said she created "Our Lady" to portray her faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe as a depiction of a strong, confident woman. But the depiction has been criticized by New Mexico residents including Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan, who called it sacrilegious.

"The Museum of New Mexico was not careful to balance legitimate research, exhibition and interpretive needs with the religious and spiritual concerns of the people," states the appeal, which was read Friday by Trujillo outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church at Agua Fria and Guadalupe streets.

Trujillo filed the appeal with the museum a few minutes later on behalf "people of faith" and parishioners of his church, which includes more than 1,000 families.

Trujillo's appeal quotes the Gospel of John to explain why he and the parish qualify as a concerned party under state museum guidelines.

"We are defending our Mother from a distorted and state-sponsored affront," the appeal states. "There is no human law that for us can change that fact."

Museum of New Mexico President Tom Wilson could not be reached for comment but said previously that he holds the authority to decide appeals to decisions made by the state museum Sensitive Materials Committee.

The committee recommended last month that the Cyber Arte exhibit remain intact and on display.

Appeals must be decided within 30 days and a second appeal can be made to the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents, a board appointed by Gov. Gary Johnson to oversee four state museums and five state monuments.

The Museum of International Folk Art, which houses Cyber Arte, said it will close the exhibit Oct. 28.

In recommending that Cyber Arte remain intact and on display, museum's Sensitive Materials Committee found the Museum of International Folk Art operated in good faith and in compliance with state laws and museum policies.

The committee acknowledged that a segment of the community, including many Catholics, felt its faith was treated disrespectfully by the Cyber Arte exhibit. Those concerns were weighed against concerns about the preservation of free speech in the museum system, according to the committee, which met 11 times, held extended conversations by e-mail and considered thousands of public comments regarding the exhibits.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Pastor Michael Shea also Friday addressed a gathering of reporters and "Our Lady" critics, suggesting the Museum of New Mexico remove the Cyber Arte exhibit in time for an annual religious procession in Santa Fe on June 24.

Shea said other programs at the museum continue to be overshadowed by the Cyber Arte exhibit.

"The decision (to keep the display up) was bad not only for us but also for the museum," said Shea, after his speech. "If I ran a restaurant and designed a sandwich that was a flop, I'd try to change it to something people could eat."

Attendance figures at the Museum of International Folk Art have shown an increase in visits since Cyber Arte was mounted.

Trujillo meanwhile described the entire Cyber Arte exhibit as deliberately offensive and that the "Museum of New Mexico is attempting to establish a new religion called 'Our Lady' in violation of federal law."

Tey Marianna Nunn, curator of contemporary Hispano and Latino collections at the folk art museum, created a pseudo-altar in the Cyber Arte exhibit, where visitors were encouraged to leave offerings from their computers at home.

"It is our understanding that if the Alma Lopéz piece comes down the whole exhibit will also come down," the appeal by Trujillo stated. "This would in our opinion be appropriate since it is the whole exhibit that is offensive, the Lopéz piece only overwhelms the rest of the exhibit."

State employee and activist José L. Villegas Sr., a vigorous critic Alma Lopéz's work and the museum staff, submitted his own appeal to the museum and a separately written "possible claim for damages" under the state Tort Claims Act.

Villegas's appeal includes many of the same points as Trujillo's document but is longer and charges the state museum with violating the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Charter of the United Nations and other international agreements.

Villegas, who traces a mixed Mexican and Native American ancestry, submitted his appeal to the museum on stationery bearing the Mexican Aztlan symbol and a Native American Kokopelli figure. He punctuated a speech Monday with the exclamation "Ya Basta! (enough already)."

Villegas's tort claim accuses the museum of "malicious prosecution in connection with the Cyber Arte exhibition" without further elaboration.

Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Journal