Artist López speaks on Virgin controversy

March 27, 2001

She plans to be in Santa Fe when the board of regents votes on whether to removeher artwork

By calling for the removal of Our Lady, area Catholics are sending the message that the Virgin of Guadalupe 'doesn't belong to me to interpret her,' artist Alma López said, and that upsets her.

Alma López, a Los Angeles muralist and digital artist, plans to be in Santa Fe next week when the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regentsmeets to consider whether to remove her controversial bikini-clad image of the Virgin of Guadalupe from an exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art.

López said Monday she wants people to "better understand where I was coming from."

Edson Way, the state cultural-affairs officer, had hoped to schedule the board-of-regents meeting for later this week, but on Monday said it would be held next week, possibly on April 4, to accommodate as many members as possible.

López's depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing a floral bikini also prompted a statement Monday from Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael J. Sheehan. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the Hispanic version of the Virgin Mary.

Sheehan, who returned last Friday from leading a pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes, called the picture "insulting, even sacrilegious, to the many thousands of New Mexicans who have deep religious devotion to Guadalupe."

Sheehan said the picture had "no place in a tax-supported museum."

"I wish those who want to paint controversial art would find their own symbols to trash and leave the Catholic ones alone," he added. He urged the board of regents to "see that the offensive image is removed and that those responsible for the unfortunate decision to display it apologize."

Dean Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church said he was disappointed the picture was not removed from the exhibit Friday. Several state representatives and senators had called to offer support, he added, and "the board will start hearing from them."

López was born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. The Virgin of Guadalupe of her childhood was revered by Roman Catholics throughout Latin America - "a super, holy, motherly figure," she said.

"I grew up with that image. It's not like I'm a stranger to it," López said. The interpretation hanging in the folk-art museum, she explained, was "a sincere effort to find a (different) connection to her."

In an interview from Los Angeles, López said the reaction in Santa Fe has been "the most overwhelming response to the piece." The picture, for which she received an individual-artist grant from the city of Los Angeles, attracted attention when it went on display at the Barnsdall Municipal Art Gallery in Hollywood - but not nearly the outrage it has caused in Santa Fe. The image also appears on an award-winning book jacket, and López has shown it regularly during university lectures.

López said she is upset by the message that "she doesn't belong to me to interpret her."

"I was trying to find a different way of looking at her," she explained. Instead of the passive, traditional model, López saw the Virgin of Guadalupe as "powerful and strong."

The model for the Virgin of Guadalupe is Raquel Salinas, a performance artist and a friend of the artist's. She is standing with her hands on her hips and her head raised slightly, seeming to invite the viewer to challenge her. "The pose is a natural pose the model took. She grew up in urban LA, and you need to grow up a little tough there," López explained.

"She is like the women I relate to in my community and family, " she said. The mother of the infant Jesus, she added, "would definitely be an amazingly strong and powerful woman."

In Our Lady, the Virgin of Guadalupe's private parts are covered by rose petals, a reference to the story of her appearance to an Indian farmer named Juan Diego in 1531.

The Virgin Mary reportedly came to him on a hillside outside Mexico City and asked him to build a church in her honor. When the bishop refusedto believe his story, the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego a second time and told him to go to a barren, stony place where he would find roses growing.

He wrapped the roses in his cloak and brought them to the bishop. When he unwrapped them, he discovered the image of the Virgin imprinted on the cloak.

López was also inspired by the writing of Latina author Sandra Cisneros, who once wondered what saints wore under their formal clothes.

In López's picture, the Virgin of Guadalupe is also dressed in the cloak of an Aztec warrior goddess.

In addition to modeling for Our Lady, Salinas appears as the Virgin of Guadalupe in one of her performance pieces. Two men approach her asking for miracles. One is looking for a passive wife, the other for a motherly figure. Before removing her robe, she says, "I am so much more than that."

López uses another friend, Raquel Gutierrez, as the model for the bare-breasted angel who holds the Virgin aloft. "For me, the connection I have with the breast has to do with mother and nurturing," López said.

"My whole idea was to portray someone who is strong rather than sexual," López concluded.

In a controversial series titled "Lupe and Sirena," López's images are more openly sexual. A picture of the Virgin Mary, in traditional guise, is stroking the breast of a mermaid associated with Mexican lotería games and cards.

Raquel Gutierrez, writing in Frontera magazine, said, "It's safe to say that Alma's Lupe isn't your abuela's Virgin."

López said she would have to go along with whatever the board of regents decided.

"Not everyone is going to like everything," she said. "But it should be available for people to look at and think about - and form an opinion themselves."

Copyright 2001 Santa Fe New Mexican


Reader Opinions

Name: Kathy Forrest
Why make such a fuss? The artist did a very nice painting it isn't soooo offensive she isn't nakedand even if she were—so what! Art is art, it doesn't offend this taxpayer in Santa Fe. Why cause so much trouble for this artist and people like me who don't want censorship in this town!!!!!

Name: debbie vigil

it's our blessed mother - something very holy and spiritual to us in Santa Fe. Let her take her painting and hang it in New York.

Name: Angelo Sandoval

As a devote Catholic I find the art by Alma Lopez very offenive to myself and meany other Catholics around the State of New Mexico. Anyone how has studied the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe nows the the picture tells a story and every detail on the image has a symbolic meaning. How can a person who grow up with this image presant in her everyday life degrade such a pure image that has been a modal for all young women in the past even to be named after the Virgin was an honor to women. I conclusion I so-called piece of art should be taken down form the walls of the museum. It is an insult to the Hispanic Culture of New Mexico and especially Northern New Mexico.

Name: Mikhail
While I am believer in non censorship, I can not take the artists attitude towards the Virgin. First, she does not belong to you. She belongs to God. We in turn, belong to him. I'm pretty certain he cares about our faith than your silly painting. But, I can't believe you. To think your interpretation isn't meant to offend shows to me you are a big intellectual (if at that)snot. Do you know where you left this painting? You left it in area that where views on religion have changed very little in several centuries. And you come in here thinking these simple people will accept your ideas over night. Your crazy to think you can just plop down here with your art and accept everyone to say, "ok, that s great!" Progress is slow no matter where you go. You should honor the request and stop stirring the pot. You are accomplishing nothing by leaving the painting there, just a lot of hurt feelings. Leave the painting where I can SAFELY GO SEE IT!

Name: Anonymous
What a mixed up world we live in today. Thanks to the many that "think" they have values & morals, everythings' going to pot. Just look around, people who say they have values, say so for their convenience. They need to somehow justify their won actions/behavior. These are the ones who think it's okay to do "what's best for me and what makes 'me' happy!" "Self-expression is okay" regardless who gets hurt. "Self, self, self" is what matters today (aka, selfishness.) "If it feels good, do it." More and more, the boundaries of respect are diminishing. We've gone overboard on "free speech" "freedom of choice," etc. Our "freedooms" are what's bringing us to our own ruin. There is no longer a sense of decency, because now it's "freedom of expression." There is no longer respect for the child (not fetus, not tissue, not 'contents of the uterus', but CHILD) in the womb, because it's now called "freedom to choose." (We justify every way the FACT that KILLING a baby is okay). Wake up everyone, just becuase it's the year 2001, doesn't mean we have to loose what really matters in life. Thank God for sending us people like our blessed Virgin Mary to imitate. Along with Her Son, Jesus, she is the example we should all follow. If Alma wants to express some of todays women, I guess she did it--showing everything she has. If she wants to express a woman of strength, a woman of patience and love, a woman of character--a Lady, THEN she is talking about Our clothed and modest Blessed Mother. The Blessed Virgin Mary is every example of goodness. Not of selfishness. Imagine if we were unselfish like her? I'm sorry, but call Alma's 'work' what you want--it's not art--today a slap of a paintbrush on a canvas is called art. Thank God for those that really know the difference and stand up for what's right! I personally believe Alma is trying to make a name for herself for the sake of the good old mighty dollar-so sad that the mighty dollar has so much influence and control on all our decisions. Anyone who is a true devout Catholic learned that one who does such things as Alma is being sacrilegious. Or to put it in another way to those that say "it's just art", I don't believe you would appreciate logging unto the net one day and finding your mother or grandmother (or your preteen daughter) dipicted with her bossom exposed. I only hope that in the future, we will be able to raise our children with some sense of innocense and purity, despite all the shameless things around us.

Name: Gene Watson
Change is constant. How many of todays mothers have worn bikini suits, does that make them less a good mother. God expresses creatively through each person. I may not like someones interpretation of art but I believe the artist has a right to exhibit their work.

Name: Sarah

It's only art!! Get over it! There are worse things in life to worry about...

Name: Julie
What is so controversial? I am a somewhat devoted Catholic and NO I don't take offense to the painting. In fact I think it is beautiful!! So what if it might be a little "sexual,"...what isn't? Look around, sexual content is newspapers, on the internet, on tv, on the radio...Stop worrying about a littke painting and worry about what your children are doing and where they are!!

Name: ED
It seems to me that you can get away with anything in this country in the name of art as long as there are people with no morals supporting this type of trash. As a child my parents complained about to much sex on TV and worry about porn on the Internet. Looks like now as a father I will not only have worry about TV and the Internet but the trash they now put in museums. Alma is wrong Our Lady of Guadalupe belongs to all Catholics. Its just sad to see someone corrupt a figure who stands for some much just because she thinks she can. If Our Lady of Guadalupe wanted the world to see her bikini she would have appeared like that to Juan Diego. She would also have appeared that way on the piece of garment that is hanging in her blessed church in Mexico City. Get a clue Alma if you were a true artist you wouldn't have to degrade a religious figure to win an award.

Name: Anonymous

In New Mexico our Lady of Guadalupe has, for centuries, represented humility and acceptance of God's will. Our Lady of Guadalup did not appear to Juan Diego as a warrior princess or any other type of princess. She is the ultimate in patience and virtue. She has never appeared to anyone in a bikini. Why try to make her into something she is not? The thoughts provoked by this type of art show a lack of respect towards Our Lady as well as to those people who revere her. All this type of art shows is that the artist will do anything for attention. Good art offends no one. Art that must offend is just an attention grabber.

Name: Julie
Ed, We live in a free country right?...I believe she has the right (as does anyone else) to do anything she pleases as an artist, regardless if you are offended or not! Don't judge someone unless you know the total facts... PS- Yes I do have morals!

Name: john
It's not that it's sacrilegious art it's just bad art. Lopez's derivative technical piece lends weight to the argument that there are no great women artists. It is only because of the double whine of 'hispanic and woman' that this so-called art is getting any attention at all.

Name: iren
to be upset about the image of the virgin of guadalupe in a beautiful flower bikini is just another example of the warped sense of what's spiritual and holy by the catholic church and it's believers.long live the earthly delights.

Name: alexander dzurec
Separation of Church and State. 'Nuff said. I am happy that my tax dollars are supporting a fine exhibit that showcases some of the brightest talent in contemporary Hispanic art. Thank you Museum of New Mexico!

Name: Frank
Some thoughts on the impertinently bold and callus behavior of the Curator of the International Folk Art Museum of Santa Fe on the Crude and rude portrayal of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a Bikini. How dare she impose her freedom of expression by infringing on our Religious beliefs and all we hold sacred. How would she like for someone to take an image of her mother, sister or other person she holds in high esteem and degrade, distort, mutilate or do anything they want to it just to show their freedom of expression? Our Culture, tradition, history, and religion are most precious to us. This freedom of expression is in very poor taste, one that we can not and should tolerate! Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of the Hispanic Culture. The Hispanic People are being targeted most cruelly by portraying their Patroness in this manner. She has been our Patroness for almost 500 years, and for one person to display and desecrate one of Our Most Holy Images, just because Government allows freedom of expression, is indispicable to say the least. It is no wonder our youth, our society, our country have become so unruly and corrupt. Actions such as these demonstrate a lack of respect for those of us who’s constitutional freedom of belief is regarded as holy.

Name: Eire
Remember this is America and we supposedly have FREEDOM to express ourselves in allforms....but most importantly through ART! The Virgin Mary, if there was such a person, was human and had the same parts we all do! Wake up Catholics...and stop denying your humanity!

Name: Ana Socolov
Not only is this painting in poor taste, it is sacrilegious; it is a personal interpretation by Ms. Lopez of Our Lady as a "stong woman" I think NOT!! It shows no strength; it shows just a deep and twisted sense of disrespect for all things sacred. Please remove it from our museum!

Name: Jon
From what I have read, heard, and seen the majority of people seem to be coming out in opposition to this artwork. The last time I checked we still had freedom of expression in this country. To me defending freedom of expression means allowing the expression whether you like it personally or not. It is always much more difficult to allow something you dislike than the things you like. Given the choice between allowing artwork that I don't like personally or curtailing the right to freedom of expression, I have to choose in favor of freedom of expression. In fact I say that the "shame" of it is that so many people seem to be saying "how dare you show something that we have not preapproved first".

Name: Roberta Orona-Cordova
I am the very proud owner of "Our Lady." When I walked into a small gallery in Whittier, California, in October of 1999, I said, "I have to have her. She's beautiful." I understand the sentiments of hundreds of New Mexicans who are offended by this image because I grew up a Catholic in New Mexico, and attended St. Vincent's Academy, and St. Mary's School. Obviously, I disagree with those who are demanding "Our Lady" be removed because I believe Alma has a right to create her own representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Since the 1500's the Virgin of Guadalupe has been a static image, one that is unrealistic for all women; though She is admirable and many of us emulate Her, She has always been depicted as a woman with virtues that are unattainable for REAL women. The Virgin is nurturing, loving, forgiving--however, she was flesh and blood, too. She had breasts, a vagina, womb, and all the female sexual attributes. Because Catholics believe she was not sexual, they find Alma Lopez flesh and blood image offensive. But Woman is beautiful, and to place a photo of a real Woman in the cloak of the Virgin of Guadalupe demonstrates that many modern females openly and candidly embrace their own sexuality, which we as young girls were taught to deny because it was sinful according to the Catholic church, but okay for males because afterall, "they are men." For me, Alma Lopez' "Our Lady," combination of the symbols of the Virgin with Real Woman is who we are in real life. And finally, if you were to visit my home you would see the many traditional symbols of the Virgin and female saints because they all reflect the positive aspects of the woman's experience-- including Alma's image. Very likely "Our Lady" will be removed, but thank you Alma, and the admini- strators of the International Folk Museum for putting "Our Lady" on the map.