A group of prominent free speech organizations are encouraging the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents to uphold principles of artistic freedom as they prepare to discuss the fate of a controversial work of art in the Museum of International Folk Art.
"Our Lady," the artwork in question, is a digital collage by artist Alma Lopez in which the Virgin of Guadalupe is represented by the figure of a friend of the artist, hands on her hips and head raised, her robe open and revealing rose-laden undergarments.
According to López, the idea was to portray the virgin as a strong and nurturing woman, very much like the women in the community she grew up in, not to insult. However, a number of people have denounced the work as "sacrilegious" and "disrespectful," and called for its removal from the museum. So far, museum officials have said they have no intention of removing the work.
On Monday, April 16, 2001 at 10 a.m. there will a community meeting to provide an opportunity for the general public to be heard. The controversy has generated so much attention that an earlier meeting was rescheduled from April 4th because more than 600 people showed up at a meeting place with a capacity of about 300. New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has weighed in, announcing his support for keeping the piece in the museum.
"We applaud the decision to hold a public meeting and engender a discussion on the value of artistic expression," said Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Coordinator at the National Coalition Against Censorship. "While debate is welcome, it is important to remember that this situation is not governed by "majority rule". It is our sincere hope that the Board will join with Governor Johnson in supporting the museum and using this occasion as an opportunity to underscore the bedrock principle of the freedom to give voice to a wide diversity of ideas," added Mintcheva.
"Nationwide, we have noticed a disturbing trend in which artwork is challenged because individuals and groups deem it offensive," added Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the NCAC. "We call on all those faced with such situations to not sacrifice the right to free speech in an attempt to placate critics."
For more information contact:
Svetlana Mintcheva, Arts Advocacy Coordinator
National Coalition Against Censorship
PEN American Center
Chris Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
David Greene, Executive Director
First Amendment Project