Our Lady of Controversy
Conscience, Spring, 2003 by Alma Lopez

"WHAT A SHAME THAT YOU USE YOUR exquisite talent in such a shameful, and artistically ludicrous way. Your depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a bikini offends me." [John Correll in an email dated February i8, 2003.]

After two years, I am still receiving emails regarding the digital print, Our Lady. I have collected over 1,500 emails and numerous news articles on my website that I designed immediately after the controversy erupted in order to update friends, ask for support and share information in the important discussion about art, culture, religion, gender and censorship.

Before the controversy, Our Lady, a small digital print produced in 1999, had been exhibited extensively and was an award winning cover on a book on US Latina theatre. (1) This print drew international attention when it was included in an exhibition titled, "CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology," at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The exhibition, curated by Dr. Tey Marianna Nunn, was created as a dialogue between the traditional cultural Latina/o iconography and new technologies.

The protest against the digital print Our Lady began soon after the exhibition opened on February 25, 2001. It was lead by self-proclaimed community activist Jose Villegas, Deacon Anthony Trujillo, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan and Catholic organizations such as the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. After several rallies, much media attention, two large community meetings and many physical threats--to the artist, the curator and the museum--the work remained on display until the exhibition closed in October 2001. It was not removed due to the swell of support from diverse communities of Latina/os, women, students, professors, advocates of free speech, anti-censorship groups and countless others as well as the exhibiting artists, the governor and the museum.

Our Lady was inspired by my experiences growing up with the Virgen of Guadalupe icon. I was born in Mexico and raised in California. The image is prominently displayed in my home and community. She appears on framed pictures in homes and businesses as well as painted murals, mugs, blankets, clocks, stickers, shirts and a plethora of other items. She is even depicted in tattoos. For example, a book on the Guadalupe imagery in New Mexico includes a photograph of a man's tattooed back. (2) On the lower left is the image of the Virgen of Guadalupe with head bowed, hands clasped in prayer and wearing such a long dress that it would be physically impossible to walk. On the upper right is a semi-nude female torso with no legs. Both are unable to walk. This photograph visually documents the expected and culturally socialized gender roles reinforced with Virgen of Guadalupe iconography: women are forced to serve as either nurturing mothers or sexual objects. Why didn't anyone in Santa Fe protest that photograph?

Catholic or not, as Chicanas/Latinas, we grow up with the ever-present image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. I am continuing a tradition of Chicanas who, because we experience cultural and gender oppression, assert our voice. I see Chicanas creating a deep and meaningful connection to this revolutionary cultural female image that appeared to an indigenous person at a time of genocide, and an inspiration during liberation struggles such as the Mexican Revolution and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

After this controversy, I am not the same artist nor person. Today, I am a greater believer in the power of the image of the Virgen of Guadalupe. I am much more aware of the distinction between the meaning I intend in my work, and how it is interpreted by different people. I have experienced how insensitive and mean we can be to each other in the name of religious beliefs. I am much more conscious regarding issues of censorship as well as the need to protect our fights to freedom of expression.

In December 2002, I did a silkscreen titled, Our Lady of Controversy. It is based on Our Lady and the experience of the controversy. The only significant difference between these two prints is that the new one illustrates the woman wearing boxing gloves. The gloves are meant to make the statement that at times we may need to be prepared to defend our rights.


(1) Alberto Sandoval-Sanchez and Nancy Saporta Sternbach, Puro Teatro: A Latina Anthology, University of Arizona Press, 2000.

(2) Jacqueline Orsini Dunnington, Viva Guadalupe!: The Virgin in New Mexican Popular Art, Museum of New Mexico Press, x997.

ALMA LOPEZ is a visual and public artist. She primarily works in digital media and painting. She was born in Mexico, raised in Los Angeles, and is currently an artist in residence at the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica. Her website is

COPYRIGHT 2003 Catholics for a Free Choice
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

Alma Lopez "Our Lady of Controversy". Conscience. 26 Jan, 2011.