Our Lady controversy continues
This small (measuring only 14" x 17.5") photo-based digital print was the focus of a huge debate in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2001. Since then, America Needs Fatima (ANF) has stalked this image and harrassed the museums and universities where it has been exhibited. Most recently, ANF organized a protest at the Oakland Museum and incited conservative Catholics in Cork County, Ireland to protest the exhibition of Our Lady at the University College Cork.
Our Lady controversy
The "Our Lady" is a 14" x 17.5" digital print. This print was included in an exhibition titled CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology curated by Dr. 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.
After my initial shock to the reaction to "Our Lady," I realized that the organizers were primarily men, the Catholic Church, and conservative religious groups who would bus men and women to the protest sites or would ask them to sign postcards or write emails. For me, the lowest point of this controversy was when I received an anonymously-addressed large yellow envelope containing letters written by small children. It makes me sad and angry to think that an adult sat these children down instructing them to write hate mail.
The witch hunt continues. On December 2002, I was invited to exhibit "Our Lady" by a young artist curator, only to be censored by the director from an annual Virgen de Guadalupe exhibition at the Aztlan Cultural Center in San Antonio, Texas. During the summer of 2003, a conservative religious group from Pennsylvania came to Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles to protest a silkscreen based on "Our Lady" titled "Our Lady of Controversy" where the standing female figure is wearing boxing gloves ready to defend her constitutioinal rights. In 2004, I was included in the Fullerton Museum's exhibition titled The Virgin of Guadalupe: Interpreting Devotion. Although, the curator selected a "safe" Guadalupe image that I produced in 1997, the museum received hate emails from Hector Carreon aka Ernesto Cienfuegos of La Voz de Aztlan website.
Ten years after the controversy in Santa Fe, I was invited to include "Our Lady" in the Contemporary Coda Exhibition at the Oakland Museum. America Needs Fatima harassed the museum with tens of thousands of emails and a protest rally on the sidewalk in front of the museum on May 21, 2011. This group stalked "Our Lady" all the way to Ireland when it was on exhibiiton in conjunction with a Chicana/o conference "Trasitions and Continuities in Chicana/o Culture" at the University College Cork, Ireland, on June 24 - 25, 2011.
May 21, 2011, America Needs Fatima holds protest against Our Lady at Oakland Museum.
Since the initial controversy in Santa Fe, Our Lady has been the subject of magazine and journal essays. I have traveled internationally on invitations to speak about the controversy. Most recently, I presented in August 2011 in Mexico City on "Our Lady." There I discussed my chapter in Our Lady of Controversy, and Mexican feminist activist women told me that after my presentation, they see the image differently. They had rejected her as a construction of the Catholic church, but that after hearing my interpretation, they may reclaim her as a female indigenous activist symbol.
My visual work and the "Our Lady" controversy are topics of study in courses that range from women's studies, queer studies, religious studies, chicano/latino studies, art history studies, museum studies, american studies as well as new media studies.
I admit, I was surprised by the violent reaction to "Our Lady" because I was born in Mexico and raised in California with the Virgen as a constant in my home and my community. I 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.