Alienated by feminist brashness!
By Archon Saturday July 2nd, 2011

HOW would UCC have reacted if militant feminist Alma Lopez turned up at the door of the Spanish Department with a picture of the prophet Muhammad showing his nine-year-old child bride dangling from his knee?

The horrified reaction of the academics would have been predictable. They probably would have said, ‘Jasus, we can’t have dat,’ while the elegant practitioners of the Spanish language (feministas to a man) might have commented that ‘true pluralism respects the beliefs of all faiths and does not seek to ridicule the faith and convictions of any believer,’ as they quickly hid the Prophet’s picture.

Fortunately for all, Senorita Lopez did not have a picture of Muhammad and his nine-year-old bride, but rather one of the Virgin Mary in which she appears half naked, and it was the good Inchigeela man, John Buckley, the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, who uttered the words about respecting the beliefs of all faiths. Not UCC.

But, as far as the feminists were concerned, the Bishop had no chance of being taken seriously. Their objective was to give ‘a voice’ to culturally-oppressed Chicanos – Mexican immigrants in the United States – and feck the Leeside begrudgers.

In the process, feminist brashness alienated the support of many citizens, if the attitude of the militant lady who spoke to this scribe was anything to go by. She said: ‘Srta Lopez brought real art to Cork and the Bishop needs to take a crash course in art history before demanding that this important work be removed.’

Significantly, when asked why the choice of the Virgin Mary and not Muhammad, she said, ‘It’s not modish to poke fun at Muhammad because of the you-know-whos; too dangerous.’ And that’s the point at issue.

Because, while anything goes with regard to Christian icons and images, in UCC you tread with extreme caution if you want to bash other religions. The fact that the image of the Virgin is a central artistic topic that has remained an object of religious veneration for two thousand years cuts no ice with the College’s shock merchants.

Of course, supporters of Ms Lopez argue that her goal is not to shake believers’ faith. Corkonians, they say, only need to step back and keep in mind that the controversial piece is an artistic work. They need to acknowledge that it is about women in contemporary American society, particularly Mexican women.

Yet, in her desire to get the message across, Srta Lopez deliberately tries to ‘shock’. And, what better way to shock than to mock the Virgin Mary, who is an easy target?


Feminist viewpoint

Of course, the artist’s case is helped by the popular image of the Virgin in this country. It’s that of a Mary Poppins-type figure, attired in flowing white and blue robes, and sporting an angelic grin. It’s a hackneyed icon.

But Srta Lopez’s effort to depict the Virgin as a provocative Mexican ‘brasser’, with a midriff flimsily covered by roses doesn’t work either (in Christian art, roses symbolise a life determined by the mysteries of faith). Her picture lacks the dignity that some women are desperately try to hold onto even when poverty obliges them to work as down and out ‘brassers’.

On the other hand, in the best artistic representations of Mary, the Mother of the Son of God, that spiritual dimension is apparent. Henry Moore caught it in his Mother and Child sculpture, as did Salvador Dali in his painting of the Madonna of Port Lligat.

Of course, there may be another way of interpreting her picture. Does it reflect in some way the value system of her Chicano culture?

If so, Chicano culture doesn’t amount to much. The message to be taken from the suggestive pose of her ‘Lady of Controversy’ is that it is sex mad, dead or dying, and that its degeneration is hastened by a fragmentation of religious belief.


Picture meaningless?

A less-contrived interpretation is that her picture is meaningless, shocking perhaps but meaningless as it does not lead to any discovery of truth about ourselves, or of the truth of others.

Sadly, Senorita Lopez is no Frida Kahlo. Her world is that of pastiche, imitation, a dead style that owes something to the Italian Renaissance and is neither Mexican nor American although it carries reverberations of the plight of the Chicanos – an immigrant people trapped in a limbo land, who don’t know if they’re coming or going.

Although asserting that her picture was inspired by the complex relationship of many Chicanos to the Virgin of Guadalupe (a celebrated Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary), she says her picture is not a portrayal of the Mother of the Son of God.

However, if the intention was to portray sexual truthfulness from a feminist perspective, the picture doesn’t work at all. It falls short of making the familiar unfamiliar.


Joke in bad taste

If Cork found the picture shocking, it was largely because so much effort had gone into making the work so self-consciously offensive. The kindest thing to say about the picture is that it is banal, bad art, a joke in bad taste.

Yet, with a bit of luck, one day Senorita Lopez might sneak into the world of advertising. Her work is commercial in the sense that her engagement with aesthetics is premised on the idea of shock. And, shock is just the sort of thing that sells to a jaded consumer society (preferably Anglo American)!

Curiously, the Cork Evening Echo art critic got it right. The distinguished expert, Mr John Dolan, landed a hole-in-one with his comment that ‘Lopez knows her art will get a reaction, yet it hasn’t stopped her yet. For this, some may call her a controversialist who is adept at giving her work a free publicity boost.

‘But,’ he said, ‘let’s strip the debate down to a very basic level. Is her work of art really offensive? After all, nudity has been around in European religious imagery for hundreds of years.’

To help us understand what the man was talking about, a photo of the controversial picture accompanied the article. But De Echo was taking no chances. They blacked out the boobs of the angel holding up the half-naked Virgin Mary and, for good measure, advised the reader that ‘the nudity in the image had been censored’.

It seems that, however accurate the Echo man’s comments were, the sensibilities of Leeside readers still had to be protected! Bishop Buckley needn’t have worried.