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May 22, 2001 02:56pm
Museum OK's Scantily Clad Virgin
Source: AP
by: Deborah Baker

(SANTA FE, NM) -- A collage of the Virgin of Guadalupe clad in a flowery two-piece swimsuit will remain on display at a state-run museum despite protests from some Roman Catholics.

A museum committee recommended Tuesday that ``Our Lady,'' by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez, continue on display at the Museum of International Folk Art. However, the entire exhibit of which it is a part will close earlier than previously scheduled.

``The committee's recommendation will stand unless it's appealed,'' said Tom Wilson, director of the Museum of New Mexico, which runs the folk art museum. An appeal would go to Wilson.

Many Catholics had condemned the image as sacrilegious and insensitive and demanded its removal. Others among about 600 people who spoke at a forum in April said removing the piece would be censorship and would violate the artist's rights.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan, one of the critics, was traveling in northern New Mexico and did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The ``Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology'' exhibit, which includes the collage, opened on Feb. 25 and was scheduled to close next February. Joyce Ice, head of the folk art museum, said the exhibit would close on Oct. 28 instead, ``in the spirit of reconciliation.''

She said she thought closing the exhibit early would ``walk a middle ground,'' acknowledging the controversy but without censoring the art.

The Committee on Sensitive Materials, in a letter to Wilson, said the artists selected for the exhibit ``have rights under the First Amendment to have their works displayed free of censorship or other interference.''

The nine-member committee also said the Museum of International Folk Art meant no disrespect in exhibiting art that presents ideas derived from religious imagery.

The collage includes a photograph of a model portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe, wearing a computer-generated two-piece floral outfit that displays her midriff.

Lopez, herself a Catholic, said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman - and meant no disrespect.She has said ``Our Lady'' is an expression of her admiration for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

She said Tuesday she was pleased by the committee's decision, and expressed her thanks to museum officials who ``are right in the fire where everything is going on.''

``I almost see it as the only fair decision for them, to acknowledge that some people in the community were offended, but that the work needed to remain on exhibit,'' she said in a telephone interview from California.

Lopez said the museum would have set a bad precedent if it had removed the collage, and that it would have been wrong for her as the artist to remove it because she would have been ``a Latina artist, a chicana, pressured into silence.''

She said she hoped the opponents would recognize the compromise represented by the exhibit's early closing, and compromise likewise.

The Guadalupe phenomenon originated in 1531 when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to Juan Diego, a Christian Aztec, near Mexico City. Miracles came to be associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, and her image now appears on religious artworks, tattoos and even automobile decorations.

More than 35 New Mexico churches are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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