God requires faith, human beings require forbearance, and the Virgen de Guadalupe may need the legendary wisdom of King Solomon to deal with both. Should the 500-year-old Mexican religious icon spread her protective arms over Anna-Marie Lopez (who dared represent Our Lady in the guise of her pagan predecessor, Tonantzin) and Anel Flores (who dared select Lopez’s vision for Centro Cultural Aztlan’s annual tribute to the patroness)? They say Lopez’s painting was pulled from Centro’s show because it wasn’t traditional enough.
Or should the Virgen bestow her blessing upon Centro, which has remained faithful to the New-World Madonna’s demure historical image, cultivated for centuries primarily by male artists?
The heavens have moved in not-so-mysterious ways since the Current first wrote about Lopez’s claim of censorship two issues ago `see “Virgen matricides,” December 27, 2006-January 2, 2007`. The National Coalition Against Censorship sent an email January 3 to Centro Director Malena Gonzalez-Cid reminding her that “As the director of an art center, which receives public funding, you are obliged to follow First Amendment principles.”
Artist Alma Lopez, who is no stranger to Virgen controversy, posted a note to her blog saying that her digital collage of the Guadalupana in a floral bikini was also censored at Centro, in 2002, when Vincent Valdez was the lead artist for the Virgen show. Lopez says Valdez was discouraged from including her work because it caused a public outcry in 2001 in New Mexico. Then, the NCAC helped the Museum of International Folk Art host a public dialogue, after which the Museum chose to keep Alma’s Virgen on display. They’ve extended the same support to Centro. “I think it’s important to involve the larger Latino community in the discussion,” says NCAC Art Program Director Svetlana Mintcheva. “It is a kind of patriarchal ownership … the question of who can own a religious image is an important one.”
Flores, incensed that since the controversy arose Gonzalez-Cid has referred to her as “guest artist” and to part-time Centro employee Eddie Munoz as “guest curator,” sent a public email to Centro’s director that reads in part: “I have tried to remain neutral through this all, because I have a great respect and love for the history of Centro ... I have now changed my views. It is obvious, now the way you are working, in a manipulating and dishonest way.”
Centro says it has not sinned. According to Gonzalez-Cid, when Valdez curated the 1999 show, “Vincent had full license on it” `Valdez did not return interview requests before press time`, but for the last five or six years, the final curatorial decisions have been made by a panel — which this year included Centro staff Denise Cadena and Munoz, who both say Flores knew that Lopez’s piece wasn’t confirmed to be in the show. Cadena, Gonzalez-Cid, and Munoz maintain that Lopez’s work was excluded along with four other artists’ during the hanging primarily because there wasn’t enough space.
According to Cadena, Flores inappropriately shared the panel’s discussion regarding content with Lopez when Lopez inquired why her painting was excluded after she’d already been asked for a price for the gallery tag. Based on these conversations (not to say confessions), MashUp wonders if Centro might not have, as Jimmy Carter so poetically put it, sinned in their hearts — after all, whether or not she should have shared the information with Lopez, Flores believed that the content discussion played a part in Lopez’s exclusion.
A guilty conscience might also explain why the historic Westside organization has ditched the olive branch in favor of “the best defense is a good offense.” Centro staff suggested to me that the only reason Flores wanted to include Lopez is that the two are friends, and Gonzalez-Cid said Lopez isn’t really a local artist since she lives outside of Austin. “In closing,” she added, “I think the part that is sad for me and for Centro, is that rarely we get the Current to cover any of our events, only if it’s in a negative way.”
Centro may not worship a rebellious Virgen, but neither does it seem enamored of James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” — though they may find themselve in need of some grace if this issue continues to upset local artists. The NCAC told the Current that they prefer to resolve these issues in a non-confrontational manner, but local activist Barbara Renaud Gonzalez has taken up the cause and may not show Centro as much mercy. “... the truth has to come out,” she wrote in an email to Flores and Lopez, “and CCA has to feel the pressure.”