Virgin Mary Icon Wearing Swim Suit Attacked

N.M. museum to keep bikini-clad Virgin on exhibit But only after court ruling

Our Lady" by Alma Lopez 1999

By The Associated Press

Editor's note: State District Judge James Hall, ruling on a legal technicality Oct. 10, refused to order a state-run museum to remove the "Our Lady" collage. Opponents of the computer-generated image had argued in court that museum officials violated the state's open meetings laws when they decided to hang the piece and leave it up. Hall ruled that the opponents didn't properly notify the museum of the alleged violation as required by law before going to court. But even if the proper notice had been given, Hall said, removing the artwork would not have been the proper remedy. The disputed image is scheduled to be removed from the Museum of International Folk Art on Oct. 28.

Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan listens to reporter's question as framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe stands behind him at Archdiocese of Santa Fe offices in Albuquerque, N.M., yesterday

SANTA FE, N.M. - A collage of the Virgin of Guadalupe clad in a flowery two-piece swimsuit will remain on display at a state-run museum despite protests from some Roman Catholics.

A museum committee recommended yesterday that "Our Lady," by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, continue at the Museum of International Folk Art. However, the entire exhibit will end earlier than originally scheduled.

"The committee's recommendation will stand unless it's appealed," said Tom Wilson, director of the Museum of New Mexico, which runs the folk art museum. Anthony Trujillo, deacon of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Santa Fe, said later that the parish would file an appeal, probably next week.

The appeal goes to Wilson, whose decision in turn could be appealed to the Museum of New Mexico's seven-member Board of Regents.

Many Catholics have condemned the image as sacrilegious and insensitive and demanded its removal. Others among about 600 people who spoke at a forum in April said removing the work would be censorship and a violation of the artist's rights.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan condemned the image yesterday as "sacrilegious to many thousands of New Mexicans."

"The picture doesn't show respect for the one we consider to be the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. She is shown not as the innocent mother of Jesus, but rather, I think, as a prostitute."

Sheehan said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the committee's decision. As for ending the exhibit early, he said, "half a slice of pie is better than none at all."

The "Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology" exhibit, which includes the collage, opened on Feb. 25 and was scheduled to close next February. Joyce Ice, head of the folk art museum, said the exhibit would close on Oct. 28 instead, "in the spirit of reconciliation."

The collage includes a photograph of a model portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe, wearing a computer-generated two-piece floral outfit that displays her midriff.

Lopez, who is a Catholic, said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman. She has said "Our Lady" is an expression of her admiration for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Lopez said yesterday she was pleased by the committee's decision, and expressed her thanks to museum officials who "are right in the fire where everything is going on."

Lopez said the museum would have set a bad precedent if it had removed the collage, and that it would have been wrong for her as the artist to remove it because she would have been "a Latina artist, a chicana, pressured into silence."

The Guadalupe phenomenon originated in 1531 when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to Juan Diego, a Christian Aztec, near Mexico City. Miracles came to be associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, and her image now appears on religious artworks, tattoos and even automobile decorations.

More than 35 New Mexico churches are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For larger image and better image of the "Our Lady" collage, to order postcards, and to get more info about artist Alma Lopez, go to: excerpted from: Freedom Forum May 23, 2001 "N.M. museum to keep bikini-clad Virgin on exhibit" By The Associated Press