THE CONTROVERSY OVER
Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez's depiction of Our Lady of
Guadalupe as a naked young woman with only roses to cover her private parts
continues. (For previous coverage, see the May 2001 Mission.) The center of
the controversy, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico,
decided on Tuesday, May 22, to allow Lopez's "Our Lady" to remain
on display, though it announced that the exhibition in which the image is
featured would end in October 2001 instead of February 2002, as had been originally
This partial concession to their demands has not silenced
protestors. Other episcopal critics have joined Archbishop Michael Sheehan
of Santa Fe. Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto of Orange, for instance, according
the Los Angeles Times, encouraged Catholics to "engage this art seriously,
and the issues it raises." Soto said he is "concerned" that
what Lopez has done "denigrates women. Rather than promoting something
new and ennobling, I think she perpetuates an almost pinup-like image, not
only of la Virgen, but of women in general."
Lopez continues to defend her Guadalupe as a portrayal of a strong woman; she does not see anything sexual about it at all.
Lopez told the Times that Raquel Salinas, the model for "Our
Lady," had given her inspiration for the piece. Salinas, who teaches
drama for Proyecto Pastoral, a Catholic Church-sponsored program for at-risk
youth, performs in a one-woman play, "Heat Your Own." In this play
Salinas portrays the Virgin of Guadalupe who, when surrounded by three young
men all kneeling and praying for an obedient, chaste, and sexy housewife,
strips to reveal what is "under the veil."
Lopez has another Guadalupe image, "Lupe and Sirena,"
in which she depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe with a mermaid in which the latter
caresses Guadalupe with one hand while cupping her own bare breast with the
other. Lopez says this piece represents the union of the sacred and secular
and the Virgin embracing the "gay and lesbian community." Lopez
proclaims herself a lesbian.
From her statement on her web page, it is clear that Lopez
cannot fathom that the protest against her work could stem from religious
motives. "This controversy must be about more than a small digital print,"
she writes. "Among other issues, perhaps it's about local politics? Gentrification?
Lack of opportunities for local artists? Fear of Latina women's liberation?
Fear of change?"
Lopez says that "even if I look really hard at 'Our Lady' and the works of many Chicana artists, I don't see what is so offensive. I see beautiful bodies that are gifts from our creator. Maybe because my mother breast-fed me as a baby, I see breasts as nurturing. Maybe because I love women, I see beauty and strength. I also see the true representation of Mary. Mary was an awesome woman and mother with a difficult task. She had a child that was not her husband's, she kept her son safe from a murderous king, she suffered her son's struggles and death, and most of all she raised her son to have love a nd compassion for everyone, including female prostitutes. I think Mary was a lot like some of our mothers."