Choice in Dying
Arguing for the right to die and against the religious obstruction of that right

Alma Lopez’s “Our Lady”
27 June 2011 by Eric MacDonald

This is a picture of Alama Lopez’s “Our Lady”. According to Alma Lopez’s account on the picture is
… a 14″ x 17.5″ digital print. This print was included in an exhibition titled CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology curated by Tey Marianna Nunn at the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.The exhibit consisted of four Latina artists (three New Mexicans and me) whose visual work included imagery containing traditional cultural iconography (such as La Virgen) produced using digital technology. The three New Mexican artists are Elena Baca, Marion Martinez and Teresa Archuleta Sagel. The purpose of Cyber Arte was to introduce people familiar with the cultural iconography to new technologies and vice versa.

Cyber Arte opened on February 25, 2001 and closed as originally scheduled that same year on October 28. Soon after the opening, Jose Villegas and Deacon Anthony Trujillo were joined by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan in organizing protests demanding the removal of the small digital print. The protests were violent. The museum, the curator, and I endured constant verbal abuse and physical threats.

The print that the Archbishop and the protestors found so offensive is only an image of a forty year old woman with her belly and legs exposed standing on a black crescent moon held by a bare breasted female butterfly angel. This small print was on exhibition in a museum, not a church.

The account goes on to speak of a bitter letter writing campaign to the artist, some of them written by small children:

I still cry [she writes] when I remember receiving an anonymous large yellow envelope containing letters written by small children. It makes me sad that adults teach children to hate and write hate mail.

Significant is that Alma Lopez speaks of the image as a folkart depiction of la Virgen from a feminist perspective:

I admit, I was surprised by the violent reaction to Our Lady because I am a community artist born in Mexico and raised in California with the Virgen as a constant in my home and my community. I am know that there is nothing wrong with this image which was inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe. I am not the first Chicana to reinterpret the image with a feminist perspective, and I’m positive I won’t be the last.

Nor will the first protest against the picture be the last, as the experience of the Irish protests testify. The print is on exhibition at University College Cork, and catholics are complaining that it is blasphemous, and want it banned. Liveline, one of Ireland’s most popular radio shows, “was flooded with calls,” according to the Guardian. One caller, according to the Guardian story,

… recounted the story of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and then told how “Microsoft and Nasa” had recently used a special microscope which had proved the miraculous nature of the image of Mary that had appeared on the poncho of Juan Diego.[!!!] Their calls for bans and protests were countered by Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, who later commented: “It was like discussing the rules of quidditch with people who believe Harry Potter was a documentary.”

The bishop of Cork and Ross declared “Our Lady in a bikini” offensive. … and so the story goes on of the poor religious folk whose sensibilities are hurt by a woman’s interpretation of her own experience of the religious stories surrounding Our Lady of Guadeloupe. The more publicity this gets, and the more often the picture is repeated around the world, and the more people’s noses are rubbed into it, the sooner, perhaps, the religious will learn that we don’t really give a damn about their sensitivities, that they’ll just have to learn to roll with the punches, just like most other people do, and that they have no right, no more than Muslims or Hindus or any other religious do, to call time on someone’s self-expression, just because they are offended. It is precisely this kind of silly roadshow — that religion is so good at — that puts religion on the wanted list, wanted for offences against humanity. Here are the Irish catholics, stirred up by their leaders, all upset because someone has dared to picture the Virgin as a 40 year old woman dressed in flowers held aloft by a butterfly angel, but they weren’t upset for years and years and years when the church treated women like dirt, forced them to slave in laundries, or locked them away as children in reformatories for the crime of being born out of wedlock, and permitted the nuns and the brothers and the priests to abuse them at will. But show a picture of “The Virgin” in flowers and its a blasphemy! By the Lord Harry, these people have some nerve!

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on 27 June 2011 at 14:40 | ReplyEgbert
As Ophelia Benson mentioned with such clarity in her blog post about priorities:

Apparently art works are offensive but what about child rape, slavery, and all those cruel and monstrous acts by the Catholic Church over history? Where is the moral sense at all? It has become twisted, and now it’s about how a horrible feminist artist is persecuting the entire Catholic church with her beautiful pictures. I don’t think that is moral wisdom–I think that is immoral foolishness.

on 27 June 2011 at 15:24 | ReplyKevin
As a former Protestant, I never understood Catholic devotion to Mary. It’s very Oedipal, if you ask me.

Smacks of polytheism to me. But then, the entire “saint” thing is just a way to rename what are clearly lesser gods.

Let’s see: immortal beings who can be prayed to and who have a direct line with a primary god. And who often (in ancient religions/mythology) start out as humans who become gods because of their good works.

… Yep, that’s a lesser god.

on 28 June 2011 at 18:33 | ReplyVeronica Abbass

You may enjoy reading this post:

on 28 June 2011 at 10:05 | ReplyPeter N
I wonder if the faithful would feel less offended if they realized that miraculous origin of the “Virgin of Guadalupe” painting has been thoroughly debunked — see this article for a short but enlightening history lesson.

Also, if the hand-wringing Irish Catholics feel that Alma Lopez’s image is disrespectful and undignified, I wonder if they are aware of how the Church itself displays it — from a comment to the article I mentioned:

“I’ve been to the Basilica of La Virgen in Mexico City and it’s an amazing circus. There are Aztec dancers that dance 24/7 in front of the church. There is a whole labyrinth of vendors hawking images of La Virgen in an area underneath the basilica. There are two moving walkways in the church that pass behind and below the altar but in front of the image itself. They are always filled with people. What really struck me most about the place is how “unspiritual” it feels. … what I felt there and observed there was confirmation that it is all manmade and well-exploited for the benefit of the Catholic Church and the wealthy in Mexico.”

on 28 June 2011 at 12:22 | ReplyTim Martin
The response religious people to this print is amazing.

I’m going to assume that the excuses that these people are making, the insult they feel, and the threats and protest are an emotional kickback caused by insecurity.

I just finished reading an entire book about cognitive dissonance (“Mistakes were made,” by Tavris and Aronson), and there is one quote from the book that summarizes this exact issue.

People who are insecure in their religious beliefs may feel the impulse to silence and harass those who disagree with them, because their mere existence arouses the painful dissonance of doubt.

That seems to be this “controversy” in a nutshell. That explains how people can feel so threatened by something that poses no threat, and yet be completely complacent about so many things the Catholic Church has done that are a threat, or are just plain evil.

on 28 June 2011 at 17:35 | Replynogodshapedhole
If you want to see how these people operate, check the link below – Irish Catholic lawyers appear to be actively seeking to stir up a controversy by encouraging people outside of Ireland to use the Irish Blasphemy Law to complain “to prevent a crime occurring in that Country.”:

“The more complaints they have on record the more likely it is that they will have to act. Also the offence of blasphemy is judged by how “outraged” people really are, so complaints will be evidence of that.”

Link is (sorry don’t have much hyperlinking skills yet!):

on 29 June 2011 at 16:49 | ReplyLudo
Those catholic bigots are really amazing! What a hypocrisy! Catholic art history has a long tradition of representations of female bodies being denuded, and tortured and mutilated (see for example Sebastiano del Piombo’s ‘Martyrdom of St. Agatha’ – just google). But then, such sadistic images are probably more to the taste of those perverted catholic bigots.