July 01, 2001
Santa Fe New Mexican

400 protest 'Our Lady'

By TOM SHARPE/For The New Mexican

About 400 people came to the state Museum of International Folk Art for Saturday morning's rally against Our Lady, Alma López's controversial digital collage.

About 100 showed up Saturday afternoon to meet the Los Angeles artist at the closing reception for her show at the Emanations Studio Gallery.

López said the recommendation of the Museum of New Mexico's Committee on Sensitive Materials to close the entire show four months early seems an equitable way to end the continuing controversy.

"I believe that the museum really tried to hear what the community had to say and who is protesting, to let them know that they are being heard," López said. "This closing early is really much more of this 'OK, we are hearing you and we're understanding that you have this view.' It's really the good heart of the museum to compromise."

But speakers at the morning prayer rally were in no mood to compromise. They blasted López as a pseudo-artist and called for boycotts against the museum until the entire "Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology" exhibit is removed.

Steve Lee, a chemical engineer from St. Louis said he drove all day Friday so he could attend the rally because Our Lady "bothers my conscience."

America Needs Fatima, a campaign by a conservative Roman Catholic group called American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, sponsored Saturday's rally. The group has also led protests against what they believe to be blasphemous images at the Brooklyn Art Museum and the film Dogma.

About 100 of the protesters came from other states at the behest of the Pennsylvania-based society, known as TFP. Many dressed in business suits with red capes over their shoulders.

TFP vice president Thomas McKenna read a letter from an East Coast bishop who called the state museum's decision to display Our Lady an "example of how little faith they possess to style themselves as our nation's cultural elite. How tasteless of the unfeeling rich to mock the devout poor."

The only counter-protester at the morning rally was Rusty Rutherford, who wore a floral bra over his shirt. López's controversial image depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe with a bare midriff and clad in a floral bikini.

Rutherford also attended the reception.

"For me, it's strictly a First Amendment issue," he said. "I'm not religious and I'm not gay."

López supporter Goldie Garcia wore a two-piece bathing suit adorned with plastic flowers to the gallery reception. Garcia was one of six female artists in the show called "Las Malcriadas," Spanish for the ill-bred or impolite ones.

Many of the works had religious or sexual themes. Garcia had two works using the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and another called "St. Randy, the Patron Saint of Alimony and Child Support." Delilah Montoya's photographs show a man with metal studs in his penis.López said she didn't attend the opening reception because she worried about her safety. She said the controversy her work has stirred in Santa Fe has meant slightly more sales and slightly higher prices for her work.

"I just want to thank people who have attended the meetings in support of the work," she said. "One of the main concerns that I have right now is the repercussions that all of the protests and the rallies are going to have on maybe the self-censorship and the curators and galleries would say, 'Oh, we can't really show that work because it might be controversial.' "

Most of those attending the anti-López rally were locals.

Melvin Montoya, former adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, said the entire idea of computer art seems ridiculous.

"Frankly, I don't agree with what they call 'cyber art,' " he said. "It is not art. It requires no talent. It's just computer art."

Henry Casso of Albuquerque said the rally was the sixth he has attended to protest Our Lady.

"There's not much media here, you notice that?" he said. "But if we got somebody here and took their clothes off, then everybody would be here."

The Rev. Bill Sanchez, formerly of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Fe and now with a Socorro parish, criticized the presentation of López's piece in an exhibit room that resembles a chapel.

"On the altar, they have these candles around their god, a computer," he said. "All along the walls of this little chapel, where we have the stations of the cross, that's where the cyber art is. Whoever did this exhibit knew how we worshiped, and, on purpose, denigrated our Catholic faith."