Our Lady of Bikini

Filed under: Myths and Mysticism The Orange Hatred — Joel @ 9:55 pm

Culture warriors react pretty much the same regardless of ethnicity. They are all conservative movements, striving to impose a mode of thinking on others. There’s not a terrible lot of difference between the Nation of Islam and Christian Identity when it comes to morals. Obsession with sex and race blend in these movements. Hate groups demand separation of the races and excruciating political correctness and conformity of their membership.

Latinos have, so far, only one hate organization to their name, the infamous Voz de Atzlan. This Chicano nationalist publication based in Whittier became known to most Californians when AHnold and his supporters deliberately confused it with MECHA, a collegiate cultural organization. Most Latinos, including the Orange County Weekly’s Gustav Arellano, reject VDA’s doctrine of Aztec racial superiority. Just as we reject Trent Lott for his associations with the “Conservative Citizens Councils” (aka the Upper Class Clan), so too politicians and writers who unthinkingly ally themselves with Voz deserve closer scrutiny.

Voz is a certified hate organization, the only one catering to extremist Latinos in the entire United States. (Which is a mark of credit for Latinos, I might add.)

Arellano caught Voz editor Ernesto Cienfuegos in a classic censorship move recently when the Fullerton Museum Center announced that it would feature a work by lesbian chicana Alma López in an exhibition entitled “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Interpreting Devotion". Arellano revealed:

In his e-mail to Felz (which was cc’d to Fullerton Mayor Mike Clesceri and other high-ranking city officials), Cienfuegos wrote that Our Lady “denigrate[s] the values of [Mexicans] in collusion with those in the homosexual and lesbian lifestyles and of those others who have a deep hate against us.”

Aside from the blatant homophobia, the trouble with Cienfuegos attack on the exhibit was that Lopez’s Our Lady was not the Lopez piece chosen for the exhibit. Cienfuegos’ attack amounts to nothing more than an attempt to economically and culturally isolate Lopez.

“Our Lady ” is a provocative work of art which depicts Mary as she might appear to a Juan Diego today: in a flower-rimmed bikini. As a fan of Marian art, my initial reaction was surprise that anyone would be so bold as to paint and exhibit such a unique devotional work. The more I see Lopez’s work, the more I feel the power of its expression. It reminds me of another controversial work, the hymn Mary Blessed Teenage Mother which also attracted criticism for its unconventional depiction of the Virgin.

Many Euro and African-American observers might snicker when they see the Virgin decked out like a defiant Latina on a West Los Angeles beach. For them, this image serves as yet another nail in their ongoing crucifixion of a cultural and artistic tradition. While I do not deny the sexual overtones of the work, I must also acknowledge its santification of the cultural figure it depicts.

Lopez skillfully blends Aztec, Catholic, and secular themes to redefine womanhood. Where the original Virgin stares with downcast eyes (is she being humble or patronizing?), Lopez’s virgin looks straight at the viewer. Where the virgin is supported by a classic European cherub, a butterfly spirit out of Nahuatl myth supports the dark crescent on which the madonna with an attitude stands. Our Lady is a complex work of art which challenges how the Virgin of Guadalupe and all the other mothers with child mold our expectations of what womanhood should be about.

Which brings me back to Cienfuegos. Joining him in opposition to including Lopez’s work in the Fullerton exhibit is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Arellano detects more than a whiff of hypocrisy in the cultural and religious attacks on Lopez. The uncompromising rejection of Lopez’s reassessment of the iconography strikes me as heavy-handed.

A great parodist must feel overwhelming love for her subject matter and I feel Our Lady and Lopez’s less shocking María de Los Angeles exudes such affection. For Lopez, Mary the Mother of God is not an unfriendly figure. She, like Jesus, knows what it is to be human.

Which is why I, like millions of others, feel such an attraction to this figure. She is the Mother of us all, feeling our pain and loving us for who we are, however we interpret her.

As the author of an unpublished yet controversial short story about a miracle at Guadalupe, I have an inkling of how Lopez must feel. In my own work – which also features sexual themes – the Virgin steps over the gilded railing to offer a human solution to the problem of a passionless marriage. Those who have read it divide neatly into two camps: the ones who see it as blasphemy and the others who understand that underpinning this story is a sense of devotion for a figure who centuries of Church repression has robbed of her gender identity.

Alma Lopez hits a mark that needs to be hit: for this goddess figure to mean anything we must see our full selves in her. There are those who pickle Our Lady as a sexless figure on a pedestal, those who mock her, and those, like Lopez and myself, who love her humanity and who struggle against what others have tried to make of her, to bring her back to us as a friend and a lover of the Universe. We paint her and write her as a true friend of our souls.


Lopez has a reproduction of Maria of Los Angeles on her homepage.

1 Comment » The URI to TrackBack this entry is: 1. I’m always conflicted around these kinds of issues. For example, when I saw “The Last Temptation of Christ” I was shocked at the imagery of Jesus being sexual in the film (although it was done very tastefully and within the context of his being married to Mary of Magdelena). Yet, afterwards, I could appreciate the purpose for the film for having done so. I looked over the images of “Our Lady” and couldn’t quite find the “problems” with it. OTH, I understand those Catholics who are more traditional might find the image shocking (and then they interpret that as blasphemous). I don’t believe that shocking necessarily equates with blasphemous or being disrespctful, as I think you nicely point out. Comment by Joe G. — 8/22/2004 @ 12:33 pm