MEXICAN-BORN artist Alma Lopez arrived in Ireland for the first time yesterday to be greeted with a storm of protest and controversy.
Protestors wielding placards and rosary beads stood outside the gates of University College Cork (UCC) as she made preparations to display her image, Our Lady of Guadalupe, as part of an academic conference which opens today.
But instead of discussing Chicana culture, conference organiser Professor Nuala Finnegan, and Ms Lopez, spent the day conducting a round of media interviews.
It followed condemnation of the image by Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, and former MEP Kathy Sinnott.
Ms Lopez said she was surprised by the reaction.
“My photo-based digital print, titled Our Lady, is a work of art intended for exhibition in spaces such as museums, galleries, universities, community centres, and the like,” she said.
“Its purpose was not to address Catholics or Catholicism in any way.
“It is not, as the protesters keep saying, the ‘Mother of God’.
“It is a photo of a model named Raquel Salinas, who was posing for me in 1999, in a collaborative effort to discern the meaning of the Virgin of Guadalupe in our own lives.
“I never intended to offend, desecrate, blaspheme, or disrespect anyone’s religious beliefs with this image.
“The model is not naked in the photo, she is not wearing a bikini, and she’s not being crude, sexual, or provocative.
“I’ve taken away the heavy robes that the traditional image wears because I wanted to show the miracle of the roses that were the proof of the Virgin’s apparition to Juan Diego.”
According to tradition, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a Mexican in 1531 — 10 years after the Spanish conquest — and she became a symbol of national resistance.
“For me as a Mexican-born Chicana, the Virgin of Guadalupe is an important cultural image that I grew up with in my family and in my community, and that graces the walls of my own home.
“More than a religious icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a revolutionary image of indigenous resistance to colonisation and genocide.
“I believe the Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere (that’s why she’s the background in the print) and that every Chicana carries her within.
“In making Our Lady, my intent was to portray a strong Chicana in the position of respect and honour that is given to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“She is adorned with some of the symbols of the Guadalupe, such as the halo, and the crescent moon, but she is also wearing a cape that represents the Aztec moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, as a representation of both her strength and her indigenous history.
“Our Lady arrived in Ireland because I was invited by the Department of Hispanic Studies and the Centre for Mexican Studies at UCC to be a keynote speaker and exhibit my work at the conference, Transitions and Continuities in Chicana/o Culture.
“The controversy arrived in Cork thanks to the propaganda and cyber-sensationalism of the US-based, profit-driven, Catholic-fundamentalist organisation that calls itself America Needs Fatima, which has been harassing and stalking me and Our Lady since 2001.
“By misrepresenting my work and my intentions, this group is inciting some Irish Catholics to denounce me as a blasphemer.
“My response to them, to those Irish Catholics who think my intention was to slam the Catholic faith or insult their beliefs, and to the Bishop of Cork and Ross, Most Reverend Dr John Buckley, is that I am not portraying the Mother of God, and I don’t consider women’s bodies offensive, crude, or impure.
“I love women, just as I love the Virgin of Guadalupe. Our Lady was my way of communicating my love and respect for all women, including the Holy Mother.”
Meanwhile, academics and staff at UCC were bombarded with abusive phone calls over the controversy. They were verbally abused by callers, some of whom refused to give their names.
Prof Finnegan, the head of the Department of Hispanic Studies and director of the Centre for Mexican Studies, said everyone is entitled to their opinion.
“People are moved, amused, some are indifferent. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we are delighted to welcome Alma Lopez here at UCC and to showcase her work.
“We would like to invite people in to make their own mind up.”
lOur Lady and Other Queer Santas will be on display in the O’Rahilly Building, UCC today and tomorrow.
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