… a 14″ x 17.5″ digital print. This print was included in an exhibition titled CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology curated by Tey Marianna Nunn at the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.The exhibit consisted of four Latina artists (three New Mexicans and me) whose visual work included imagery containing traditional cultural iconography (such as La Virgen) produced using digital technology. The three New Mexican artists are Elena Baca, Marion Martinez and Teresa Archuleta Sagel. The purpose of Cyber Arte was to introduce people familiar with the cultural iconography to new technologies and vice versa.
Cyber Arte opened on February 25, 2001 and closed as originally scheduled that same year on October 28. Soon after the opening, Jose Villegas and Deacon Anthony Trujillo were joined by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan in organizing protests demanding the removal of the small digital print. The protests were violent. The museum, the curator, and I endured constant verbal abuse and physical threats.
The print that the Archbishop and the protestors found so offensive is only an image of a forty year old woman with her belly and legs exposed standing on a black crescent moon held by a bare breasted female butterfly angel. This small print was on exhibition in a museum, not a church.
The account goes on to speak of a bitter letter writing campaign to the artist, some of them written by small children:
I still cry [she writes] when I remember receiving an anonymous large yellow envelope containing letters written by small children. It makes me sad that adults teach children to hate and write hate mail.
Significant is that Alma Lopez speaks of the image as a folkart depiction of la Virgen from a feminist perspective:
I admit, I was surprised by the violent reaction to Our Lady because I am a community artist born in Mexico and raised in California with the Virgen as a constant in my home and my community. I am know that there is nothing wrong with this image which was inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe. I am not the first Chicana to reinterpret the image with a feminist perspective, and I’m positive I won’t be the last.
Nor will the first protest against the picture be the last, as the experience of the Irish protests testify. The print is on exhibition at University College Cork, and catholics are complaining that it is blasphemous, and want it banned. Liveline, one of Ireland’s most popular radio shows, “was flooded with calls,” according to the Guardian. One caller, according to the Guardian story,
… recounted the story of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and then told how “Microsoft and Nasa” had recently used a special microscope which had proved the miraculous nature of the image of Mary that had appeared on the poncho of Juan Diego.[!!!] Their calls for bans and protests were countered by Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, who later commented: “It was like discussing the rules of quidditch with people who believe Harry Potter was a documentary.”
The bishop of Cork and Ross declared “Our Lady in a bikini” offensive. … and so the story goes on of the poor religious folk whose sensibilities are hurt by a woman’s interpretation of her own experience of the religious stories surrounding Our Lady of Guadeloupe. The more publicity this gets, and the more often the picture is repeated around the world, and the more people’s noses are rubbed into it, the sooner, perhaps, the religious will learn that we don’t really give a damn about their sensitivities, that they’ll just have to learn to roll with the punches, just like most other people do, and that they have no right, no more than Muslims or Hindus or any other religious do, to call time on someone’s self-expression, just because they are offended. It is precisely this kind of silly roadshow — that religion is so good at — that puts religion on the wanted list, wanted for offences against humanity. Here are the Irish catholics, stirred up by their leaders, all upset because someone has dared to picture the Virgin as a 40 year old woman dressed in flowers held aloft by a butterfly angel, but they weren’t upset for years and years and years when the church treated women like dirt, forced them to slave in laundries, or locked them away as children in reformatories for the crime of being born out of wedlock, and permitted the nuns and the brothers and the priests to abuse them at will. But show a picture of “The Virgin” in flowers and its a blasphemy! By the Lord Harry, these people have some nerve!