Radical Chicana Feminist and Artist Alma Lopez Challenges Traditional Interpretations of La Virgen de Guadalupe


Posted Thu, Oct 31, 2013

Emma Pérez, Ph.D., of CU Boulder Ethnic Studies Dept. and Alma Lopez discuss the Santa Fe controversy over her image "Our Lady" at MSU Denver.

Emma Pérez, Ph.D., of CU Boulder Ethnic Studies Dept. and Alma Lopez discuss the Santa Fe controversy over her image “Our Lady” at MSU Denver. [Photo by Elizabeth Deluna]

DENVER, Auraria Campus — Alma Lopez, Metropolitan State University of Denver’s 2013 Richard T. Castro Visiting Professor, questions traditional interpretations of culturally Latino icon La Virgen de Guadalupe during this year’s Our Lady of Controversy panel discussion.

As a self-described “queer Chicana feminist activist,” her intention is to start a dialogue and examine the community response. Her notoriety as an artist involves the uproar against her from the Catholic Church.

“I was surprised when foul language was being used because these are religious people,” explains Lopez regarding the New Mexico protests by Catholic parishioners. “I wasn’t trying to sexualize her. People need to be responsible for the way they see the image.”

This year’s theme dubbed Chicana Feminist Art: Embodying la Politica, featured panel members Emma Pérez, Ph.D., of CU Boulder Ethnic Studies Dept., Carlota Espinoza a Denver Chicana artist, Kathleen FitzCallaghan Jones, and Castro Visiting Professor Alma López.

The panel focused on Lopez’s “Our Lady” and the uproar it caused in Santa Fe in 2001 when the Museum of International Folk Art exhibited Lopez’s “Our Lady” and offended much of the faithful locals because the image depicts the icon with her hands on her hips, attitude clad and covered with roses in what would seem like a bikini style, while being uplifted by bare breasted woman.

The image was inspiration for the book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s ‘Irreverent Apparition’” (University of Texas Press, 2011), which Lopez co-edited with her spouse, Professor Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

Emma Perez presented many possibilities for the radical response from parishioners as she discussed epistemic violence against the artist and repressive hypotheses. Castro further described an extension of repressive hypotheses in that the sanctity of the image was simply to mask the fact that women’s bodies are shameful, sex is shameful especially in the Catholic Church.

Panel members highlighted the fact that Chicana art and new interpretations of the image are nothing new as she guided the audience through infamous works from the 1970s including an interpretation by Esther Hernandez in which La Virgen de Guadalupe is karate clad in full roundhouse kick stance.

Lopez explains how it truly comes down to perception where an image that is meant to be symbolic of heroism is perceived as sacrilegious.

Displaying images such as Yolanda M. López’s Walking Guadalupe which features La Virgen with high heels and a robe that drapes just below the knee.

“I thought these images were funny but didn’t find them offensive,” explains Lopez. “Sure, she doesn’t have her halo because she walked off but she’s multitasking even though she’s taking a break, right? She’s still praying- it’s not like she’s off the clock!”

“La Virgen is a powerful image. We need to reclaim it and research who she really is and why she about,” says Lopez, who aims to start dialogues and reinterpret traditional norms with a positive message.

 Her artistic message implies the image of La Virgin de Guadalupe is culturally ours as Latinos and we should research her place in religious history. We should understand our relationship and perception of the icon.

“As women, we’re expected to remain virgins until we’re married while men aren’t held to the same standards, says Lopez.  It was one of the topics discussed at the panel, and one point she made was that the Papal conclave is held under the Sistine Chapel which features over 300 naked bodies, penises to be exact. “Why is this ok but a bare-chested Angel and a rose covered Virgin Mary is sacrilegious?” she asks.

At the end of the day, “La Virgin” was more than just Christ’s mother, she was a woman, a wife, a heroine for many as we plead for her miracles to be bestowed upon us but she has needs as well. We celebrate her but we can’t impose our relationship with her or our perception of her as a woman on others.

As a Mexican native who grew up surrounded by various depictions of La Virgen de Guadalupe in her home, the image holds more than just a religious representation.  “In our community, we respect La Virgen so much, why shouldn’t we respect all women? All women are beautiful. “

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About Elizabeth Deluna

Elizabeth Deluna is a Denver-area journalist and publicist at DeLuna Communications L.L.C.

View all posts by Elizabeth Deluna

One Response to “Radical Chicana Feminist and Artist Alma Lopez Challenges Traditional Interpretations of La Virgen de Guadalupe”

  1. Robert Crew Says:

    I love your article. It was very interesting. Some of the quotes were awesome and she does bring up a very good point.


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