Museum backs exhibit with bikini-clad Virgin Mary Art protest

By Deborah Baker
Associated Press

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 Tuesday that ''Our Lady,'' by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, continue on display at the Museum of International Folk Art. However, the entire exhibit of which it is a part will close earlier than previously 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. An appeal would go to Wilson.

    Many Catholics had 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 piece would be censorship and would violate the artist's rights.

    Archbishop Michael Sheehan, one of the critics, was traveling in northern New Mexico and did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

   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.''

    She said she thought closing the exhibit early would ''walk a middle ground,'' acknowledging the controversy but without censoring the art.

    The Committee on Sensitive Materials, in a letter to Wilson, said the artists selected for the exhibit ''have rights under the First Amendment to have their works displayed free of censorship or other interference.''

    The nine-member committee also said the Museum of International Folk Art meant no disrespect in exhibiting art that presents ideas derived from religious imagery.

    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, herself a Catholic, said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman -- and meant no disrespect.

    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.
This article published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Saturday, May 26, 2001.