Jesus in Love Blog: A place for LGBT spirituality and the arts.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2010
Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon
“Mary Magdalene and Virgen de Guadalupe” (from “My Cathedral”) by Alex Donis
Our Lady of Guadalupe brings a message of holy empowerment that speaks to LGBT people. Queer art based on Guadalupe is shown here for her feast day today (Dec. 12). She is an Aztec version of the Virgin Mary that appeared to Aztec peasant Juan Diego outside Mexico City on Dec. 12, 1531.
In Juan Diego’s vision, the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, addressing him as if he were a prince. It was astonishing because Mexico had been conquered 10 year earlier by Spaniards who claimed to have the one true faith. An icon of her, looking just as Juan Diego described, was imprinted on his cloak as a miraculous sign. Our Lady of Guadalupe became a popular symbol of dignity and hope for the native people of Mexico, and by extension to indigenous people everywhere.
The hill where Juan Diego had his vision used to be the site of an ancient temple to the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. Her temple was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. Our Lady of Guadalupe asked for a church to be built in her honor right there, among the conquered people. That shrine is now the most popular Catholic pilgrimage destination, receiving more than 6 million visitors per year.
Many artists have interpreted Our Lady of Guadalupe in a variety of ways. Those who created queer Guadalupe art include Alex Donis, Alma Lopez, and Jim Ru.
Alex Donis painted the Virgin of Guadalupe kissing Mary Magdalene as part of “My Cathedral,” a series that showed people of opposite viewpoints kissing in same-sex pairs. Donis was familiar with contradictions from his own “tri-cultural” identity: pop, queer, and Latino. Born to Guatemalan parents, he grew up in East Los Angeles.
His “My Cathedral” exhibit caused a frenzy when it opened in San Francisco in 1997. Heated arguments erupted in the gallery, followed by threatening phone calls and letters. Vandals smashed two of the artworks: Jesus kissing the Hindu god Rama, and guerilla leader Che Guevara kissing labor organizer Cesar Chavez. Most people overlooked his painting of Guadalupe kissing Mary Magdalene, but it remains a potent, beautiful expression of the union of sexuality and spirituality. It is included in my book “Art That Dares.”
"Our Lady of Controversy" by Alma Lopez
Erotically alive, feminist and lesbian versions of Our Lady of Guadalupe are a common theme in the art of Alma Lopez, a Chicana artist and activist born in Mexico and raised in California. A huge controversy erupted over her “Our Lady,” a digital print showing the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini made of roses, exalted by a bare-breasted butterfly. Lopez says she intended it as a tribute to Our Lady, “inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe.”
Catholic authorities tried to have Lopez’ “Our Lady” removed from an exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2001. Death threats, censorship efforts, and violent protests brought national and international attention to the print as artistic freedom clashed with freedom of religion. The debate is covered in the forthcoming book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s ‘Irreverent Apparition.’” It will be published in April by University of Texas Press. The anthology is edited by Alma Lopez and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The two women were married in 2008, during the brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.
“Our Lady” may seem tame compared to some of the lesbian images of Our Lady of Guadalupe that Lopez made. Visit her website, almalopez.net, to see a lovely romance unfold between Guadalupe and a mermaid in artwork such as “Lupe and Sirena in Love.”
"Virginia Guadalupe" by Jim Ru
Jim Ru painted a bearded drag queen version of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Titled “Virginia Guadalupe,” the painting was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.
This bold painting certainly gives new meaning to the title bestowed upon Guadalupe by Pope Pius XII: “Queen of Mexico.” If the Virgin Mary could appear to an Aztec as an Aztec, then why not show up to a queer as a queer?
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.