A recent, troubling incident involving an art exhibition sponsored by the Centro Cultural Aztlan in San Antonio, Texas merits your attention and voice in opposition to attempts to limit artistic expression.

A piece by artist Anna-Marie Lopez, initially selected for display in the Centro’s annual tribute to the Virgen de Guadalupe, was rejected shortly before the opening of the exhibition. Ms. Lopez and the lead artist for the show, Anel Flores, who led the Centro’s three-person selection committee, both claim the untraditional viewpoint expressed in the work was the reason for its rejection.

An image of Anna-Marie Lopez’s work (left) side by side with a traditional image of the Virgen de Guadelupe

In responding to allegations of censorship, the Centro contended that the piece was pulled for reasons of space limitation, not content or viewpoint.  However, statements made by Centro officials, as well as the observations of Anel Flores and the artist, make this position suspect. Denise Cadena, the Centro’s Arts Program Manager and a member of the selection committee, stated “in reaching our final decision we considered each piece…keeping in mind community expectations and standards.”  In a similar vein, the Centro’s Executive Director,  Malena Gonzalez-Cid, was quoted in the San Antonio Current as saying “[w]hen a community sets a standard, it’s going to be a pretty high mark for the Virgen de Guadalupe in this town.  I’m going to support that standard.”

Who has the right to determine how the Virgen of Guadalupe is presented? Should some of those for whom the Virgen is an important symbol be prohibited from making it their own and expressing their deeply held concerns through it? It appears that the Centro is denying that right to feminist Chicana artists who take the traditional image and re-create it to represent a strong and earthy womanhood. A few years ago, in 2002, the Centro rejected another artist’s digital collage of the Virgen in a floral bikini. The work, by LA artist Alma Lopez, had recently been subject to public outcry at an exhibition in New Mexico.

This is not only about one or two works of art. It is about the larger issue of the Centro’s commitment to artistic freedom and their respect for local artists.  The Centro has to reaffirm its loyalty to those core values if it is to maintain its position in the community.

We urge you to support not only the San Antonio arts community, but artists nationwide, in their freedom to express their ideas, even when those ideas are not popular. Call or send a letter to the Centro Cultural Aztlan to let them know that the choices of a community art center are to serve the whole constituency, not just an orthodoxy imposed by a vocal minority – or even majority. The National Coalition against Censorship has offered to work with the Centro to achieve this goal, but has met only with silence.  Now is the time for you to become involved.

Address your letters to:
Ms. Malena Gonzalez-Cid
Executive Director
Centro Cultural Aztlan
1800 Fredericksburg Road
Deco Building, Suite 103
San Antonio, Texas 78201

You can also write letters to the editor of the San Antonio Current or San Antonio Express-News:

Elaine Wolff, Editor
San Antonio Current
1500 N. Saint Mary’s St.
San Antonio, TX 78215

Robert Rivard, Editor
San Antonio Express-News
PO Box 2171
San Antonio, TX 78297-2171