Art Exhibition Goes Ahead Despite Criticism
Thursday, 23 June 2011

Niamh O'Mahony
A digital print labelled “unacceptable” and “offensive” by the Bishop of Cork and Ross will go on exhibition as planned in University College Cork's O'Rahilly Building today (Friday) and tomorrow.

In a statement on Thursday, UCC confirmed that artist Alma Lopez will be one of six keynote speakers at a conference being organised by its Centre for Mexican Studies, adding that there had "never been any intention to cause offence" over the decision to display her controversial ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ image. The print shows the Virgin Mary wearing a floral bikini and standing above a bare breasted female angel.

Compared with some artworks that have previously gone on display in Ireland and which have attracted far less attention, Peter Murray, curator of the Crawford Art Gallery, told the Cork News the picture is “fairly mild”.

“The art world is generally characterised by a degree of tolerance for viewpoints that may not fully be in accord with people who have strong religious beliefs and when I saw the picture, I didn’t think it was offensive,” he added.

“I’ve seen other works in the country that could be viewed from a more negative point of view and that didn’t cause any difficulties, so this has all the hallmarks of a manufactured controversy. There seems to be ongoing dialogue between the artist and a group of people originating in the US and the best thing to do is exercise a little tolerance.

Saying that, I fully respect people who have found it offensive and it’s important they say what they both feel and believe in.”

The UCC statement reiterated Ms. Lopez’ own long-held stance on the image, concluding: “The artist has refuted any intention to offend, pointing out that she has publicly stated both in published work and on her website that her intention was to portray a strong Chicana in a place of honour and respect that she deserves.”

College authorities have, however, decided that the image should be on display in an area where only people who choose to view it will do so.

A spokesman also reiterated that the conference is intended to be a “scholarly discourse” on the identity, formation and mythology of the Chicano culture, which refers to US citizens of Mexican descent.

Most Reverend Dr John Buckley was clear in his disapproval though, saying: “Respect for Mary, the Mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives. Irish poets and culture hold Mary in the highest esteem and it is regrettable and unacceptable that this exhibition seeks to portray the Mother of God in such an offensive way.” He was joined by TD Jerry Buttimer who said the exhibition was “overtly blasphemous and blatantly disrespectful”.