Vehement feelings flow from orderly gathering

About 600 attend debate to speak out, speak quietly or post comments Kathryn Cook/Tribune

A traditional image of a religious icon leans against a chair on the floor of the Sweeney Center in Santa Fe as people listen to remarks about artist Alma L¢pez's work "Our Lady" at a public meeting. L¢pez's photocollage ignited furious opposition in the Roman Catholic community when it appeared as part of an exhibit at the state's Museum of International Folk Art.

Kathryn Cook/Tribune
Santa Fe residents Charlene Lopez Clayton and Joseph Ortiz listen to Steve Carillo as he offers his opinion on whether "Our Lady" should continue to be displayed at a state-sponsored gallery.


By J.M. Baról
Tribune reporter

SANTA FE -- Lucas Martinez could barely see over the protest signs he held.

With a smile that revealed two missing teeth, Martinez, 7, spoke out Monday about his feelings on a controversial image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

"I feel sad," said Martinez, looking down at his computer-mouse-size sneakers. "I want the picture taken down."

His older brother agreed.

"I want to take down the picture," said Joey Martinez, 13. "It makes her look like a slob. She's Jesus' mother. To see her like that makes me mad."

The Martinez brothers stood in front of Sweeney Center in downtown Santa Fe holding 4-foot-tall signs expressing opposition toward Alma L¢pez's artwork "Our Lady."

"Alma, your soul is a high price to pay for money, recognition and attention," one of the signs read.

"Jesus teaches purity and modesty, not nudity and vulgarity," read another.

The Martinez family, led by mother Lynn Martinez, were among about 600 people at a long-awaited meeting to discuss the work on display at the state-run Museum of International Folk Art.

A cluster of State Police officers watched the crowd, but there was no violence or disorder at the meeting, which was originally scheduled two weeks ago but was rescheduled for a different venue because the crowd was too big.

Officials had expected as many as 2,000 people to attend Monday's meeting at the Sweeney Center.

"It was less than we anticipated," said Girard Martinez, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs and the facilitator for the event.

At the forum, which began at 10 a.m. and lasted past 5:30 p.m., some people expressed their feelings in small, intimate circles on an upstairs floor of the convention center. Others were given three minutes each to express their thoughts into an open microphone on the floor below. By the time it was over, more than 200 people had spoken.

The first person to participate in the open microphone session spoke in favor of leaving the work on display.

"Freedom is what the United States is about," said the speaker. "That means the freedom of the artist to make the art she wants. That means freedom of the museum to hang that work and that means freedom for people to choose to go to the museum to see that work."

When Lynn Martinez got her chance to speak to the crowd, she said: "I'm all for freedom of expression. But keep our Lord, Our Lady, our saints out of it."

A furor has grown over recent weeks over the image that shows a woman representing the Virgin of Guadalupe with her robe open, scantily clothed in rose-laden undergarments. Below, a bare-breasted woman holds up a crescent moon on which the Virgin stands.

The piece, created by Los Angeles artist L¢pez, went on display in February. It is scheduled to remain on display until next February.

Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Fe, who initiated the protest last month against L¢pez's piece, said: "I came here to ask questions. Who authorized this offense? Is it reasonable to offend so many people?

"If the museum wants to represent the Catholic people, represent us correctly, or do not represent us as at all. We are not objects of museums. We are people of faith."

The Sensitive Material Committee, an ad hoc council of nine community members and museum officials appointed by Museum of New Mexico director Tom Wilson, will review the comments from the forum and then make a recommendation to Wilson. Wilson will then make a recommendation to the museum Board of Regents, whose members will make the final decision on whether to keep the artwork on display.

It's unclear when the Board of Regents will announce its decision.

Not everyone who attended Monday's forum expressed his or her thoughts in speech -- many wrote down their feelings on large pieces of paper hanging throughout the auditorium.

One passage read: "This is a sign of the decadence of America. We degrade the sublime and worship the trash."

Another: "Honor the sacred right to have different perspectives."

Anne Kelly, an art student at the College of Santa Fe, said the community must guard against over-reacting to the controversy.

"I was at the first meeting and I was appalled by the power and anger it created," Kelly said. "I understand why people feel so passionate about it, but we're making such a big deal out of it. The thing is, it's not a masterpiece. It's all right, but it's not a masterpiece."