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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Artist defends bikini-clad Madonna
Students view the controversial collage
Alma Lopez says the picture shows a strong woman
The artist who depicted the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing a floral bikini has defended her work, saying she does not see anything wrong with it.

Mexican-born Alma Lopez outraged some Catholics by showing Mexico's national representation of the Virgin Mary with her hands on her hips and being supported by a bare-breasted angel.

Ms Lopez says she intended Our Lady, on display in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to show a strong and beautiful woman.

Virgin Mary picture
The exhibition has been cut short by four months
But many do not see it that way. The Most Rev Michael J Sheehan, archbishop of Santa Fe, said Ms Lopez had turned the Holy Virgin into "a tart".

"I see this woman's legs and her belly and [the angel's] breasts, and I don't see anything wrong," she told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

Some detractors have staged protests at Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art, saying the work is sacrilegious.

More than 750 people attended a public meeting about the piece in April before the museum decided it would not remove Our Lady - but cut the length of its exhibition by four months as a compromise.

'Threatened'

Ms Lopez said two artists who spoke in her defence at the meeting were intimidated and harassed.

Demonstrators were "threatened" by her portrayal of the Virgin as a contemporary Latina, she said.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the country's strongest indigenous religious icons.

"Although this situation is very difficult and painful, I think that at some level there must be something positive about the dialogue it has prompted," Ms Lopez wrote on her website.

"This controversy must be about more than a small digital print. Among other issues, perhaps it's about local politics? Gentrification? Lack of opportunities for local artists? Fear of Latina women's liberation? Fear of change?"

'Reconciliation'

She likened her experience to that of fellow Latina artist Yolanda Lopez, who received bomb threats for showing the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing low-heeled shoes.

She also said many churches house images of nude male angels and "practically naked" Crucifixion images of Jesus.

The Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology exhibit, which includes the collage, will now close on 28 October "in the spirit of reconciliation".

The museum views the decision to cut the show short as "walking the middle ground" without censoring the art.

More than 35 New Mexico churches are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The phenomenon began in 1531 when the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to Juan Diego, a Christian Aztec, near Mexico City, prompting stories of miracles.

See also:

16 Feb 01 | Americas
'Naked Jesus' angers Giuliani
24 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Hirst in NY art row
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