Sunday, December 12, 2010

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon

“Coyolxauhqui Returns as Our Lady disguised as La Virgen de Guadalupe to defend the rights of Las Chicanas” by Alma Lopez

“Chulo De Guadalupe” by Tony de Carlo

Our Lady of Guadalupe brings a message of holy empowerment that speaks to LGBT people -- and angers Christian conservatives. Queer art based on Guadalupe is shown here for her feast day today (Dec. 12). She is an Aztec version of the Virgin Mary that appeared to Aztec peasant Juan Diego outside Mexico City on Dec. 12, 1531.

In Juan Diego’s vision, the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, addressing him as if he were a prince. It was astonishing because Mexico had been conquered 10 years earlier by Spaniards who claimed to have the one true faith. Following her instructions, he gathered roses in his cloak. An icon of her, looking just as Juan Diego described, was imprinted on the cloak as a miraculous sign. Our Lady of Guadalupe became a popular symbol of dignity and hope for the native people of Mexico, and by extension to indigenous or oppressed people everywhere.

The hill where Juan Diego had his vision used to be the site of an ancient temple to the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. Her temple was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. Our Lady of Guadalupe (in Spanish Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or Virgen de Guadalupe) asked for a church to be built in her honor right there, among the conquered people. That shrine is now the most popular Catholic pilgrimage destination, receiving more than 6 million visitors per year.

Even standard icons of Guadalupe are subversive because they show the Virgin as a dark-skinned Mexican, challenging the Euro-centric images of her as a blue-eyed white lady. The foremothers of the Mexican Guadalupe include the Black Madonnas, especially the medieval Spanish Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremdaura, Spain.

Those who took the liberating vision a step further to create queer Guadalupe art include Tony De Carlo, Alex Donis, Ralfka Gonzalez, Alma Lopez, and Jim Ru.

“Our Lady” by Alma Lopez

"Our Lady of Controversy" cover
Erotically alive, feminist and lesbian versions of Our Lady of Guadalupe are a common theme in the art of Alma Lopez, a Chicana artist and activist born in Mexico and raised in California. A huge controversy erupted over her “Our Lady,” a digital print showing the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini made of roses, exalted by a bare-breasted butterfly. Lopez says she intended it as a tribute to Our Lady, “inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe.”

Encuentro (Encounter)
by Alma Lopez
Death threats, censorship efforts, and violent protests brought national and international attention to Lopez’ “Our Lady” over the years as artistic freedom clashed with freedom of religion. In one of the most recent conflicts, thousands of negative messages compromised the email system of an Irish university that dared to exhibit it in 2011. (For details, see my previous post Our Lady and Queer Saints art attacked as blasphemy - Show support now!).

“Lupe and Sirena in Love”
by Alma Lopez
In 2001 Catholic authorities tried to have Lopez’ “Our Lady” removed from an exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The debate is covered in the 2011 book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s ‘Irreverent Apparition.’” from University of Texas Press. The anthology is edited by Alma Lopez and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The two women were married in 2008, during the first brief period when same-sex marriage was legal in California.

“Our Lady” is erotic, but there is more overt lesbian content in some of the other images of Our Lady of Guadalupe that Lopez made. Her website,, includes images of a romance between Guadalupe and a mermaid in artwork such as “Lupe and Sirena in Love.”

The Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui has been interpreted as a lesbian deity by Chicanas such as writer-activist Cherrie Moraga. Lopez paints Coyolxauhqui, machete in hand, as Guadalupe in the image at the top of this post: “Coyolxauhqui Returns as Our Lady disguised as La Virgen de Guadalupe to defend the rights of Las Chicanas.”

“Mary Magdalene and Virgen de Guadalupe” (from “My Cathedral”) by Alex Donis

Alex Donis painted the Virgin of Guadalupe kissing Mary Magdalene as part of “My Cathedral,” a series that showed people of opposite viewpoints kissing in same-sex pairs. Donis was familiar with contradictions from his own “tri-cultural” identity: pop, queer, and Latino. Born to Guatemalan parents, he grew up in East Los Angeles.

His “My Cathedral” exhibit caused a frenzy when it opened in San Francisco in 1997. Heated arguments erupted in the gallery, followed by threatening phone calls and letters. Vandals smashed two of the artworks: Jesus kissing the Hindu god Rama, and guerilla leader Che Guevara kissing labor organizer Cesar Chavez. Most people overlooked his painting of Guadalupe kissing Mary Magdalene, but it remains a potent, beautiful expression of the union of sexuality and spirituality. It is included in the book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry..”

Guadalupe as Chenrezig by Ralfka Gonzalez

Outsider artist Ralfka Gonzalez adds an androgynous Buddhist interpretation by painting Guadalupe as the embodiment of compassion known as Chenrezig, Avalokiteshvara or Kwan Yin. Tradition says the compassionate bodhisattva is both male and female. In the Gonzalez image, he/she is wrapped in Juan Diego's cloak.

Pictured here is the first of many “Buddha Lupe” images painted by Gonzalez. He is a self-taught Chicano artist and gay Latino activist who divides his time between Oaxaca, Mexico and San Francisco. He often paints Mexican and/or gay themes in a colorful folk-art style.

Artist Tony de Carlo affirms the holiness of gay love with bright, festive paintings of queer saints, Adam and Steve, same-sex marriage and much more. His genderbending “Chulo De Guadalupe” appears near the top of this post. In Mexican slang “chulo” refers to someone who is cute and, in some cases, sexy.

De Carlo, who died in 2014, was a native of Los Angeles. His work is exhibited regularly in museums and galleries throughout the United States.For more on Tony De Carlo and his art, see my previous post: Gay saints, Adam and Steve, and marriage equality art affirm LGBT love: Tony De Carlo Interview.

"Virginia Guadalupe" by Jim Ru

Jim Ru painted a bearded drag queen version of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Titled “Virginia Guadalupe,” the painting was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s. He discusses it in a 2015 video.

These bold paintings certainly give new meaning to the title bestowed upon Guadalupe by Pope Pius XII: “Queen of Mexico.” If the Virgin Mary could appear to an Aztec as an Aztec, then why not show up to a queer as a queer?

Guadalupe tends to dominate discussions of Latina/o depictions of Mary, but other icons of the Virgin tend to be more important outside Mexico, such Our Lady of Lujan in Argentina. And artists are making queer versions of these other Virgins too. For example, Giuseppe Campuzano (1969-2013) of Peru cross-dressed as Our Lady of Sorrows in art portraits that appear in his book “Museo Travesti del Peru (The Peruvian Transgender Museum).”
Related links:
Virgen de Guadalupe Contemporary Art (Feminist Texican)

Decolonizing Sexuality and Spirituality in Chicana Feminist and Queer Art by Laura E. Perez (Tikkun)

A Visit to Alma Lopez’ Studio: Finding lesbian saints, mermaids, revolutionaries and goddesses (Jesus in Love)

Giuseppe Campuzano and the Museo Travesti del Perú (Hemisperic Institute)

To read this post en español, go to Santos Queer:
La Virgen de Guadalupe Queer: Artistas reinventan un icono


Various icons of Our Lady of Guadalupe and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series and LGBT Holidays series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year in the Saints series. The Holidays series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


Trudie said...

All the various ethnic manifestation of Mary, as well as those of Jesus, simply reinforce for us that these are not merely historical characters, but rather personify unique and especially vital ways in which God breaks through to us as humans, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.

However, rather than viewing the relationship between Magdalene and Jesus' mother as a lover relationship, I think your vision in "Jesus in Love" that put Magdalene in a daughter role is especially apt. As I've already commented, having just been powerfully moved by Cynthia Bourgeault's book on Mary Magdalene, I believe the interplay between the two Mary's relevant to the anointing of Jesus at Bethany is an extremely rich spiritual insight.

KittKatt said...

You’re right that I wrote about Jesus’ mother having a mother-daughter relationship with Mary Magdalene in my novels. That seems more true to life and true to the Bible story.

The Donis painting is looking at them from a whole different angle -- as archetypes of the “virgin” and the “whore.” I like the idea that those two opposites can meet and kiss.

Another interesting sidelight is that the model for Alma Lopez’ “Our Lady” was a woman in her 40s. Some of the critics didn’t like the idea of seeing a full-bodied, middle-aged woman as a proud representative of female spiritual power.

Trudie said...

I have to smile when I think about the excessive MALE emphasis on the importance of virginity. Traditional Goddess spirituality, of course, looks at the three phases of female development -- maiden, mother and crone -- as equally valid expressions of femininity. The whore is of course completely a product of male abuse; no woman actually wants that role but many have been forced into it, whether within or outside of a marital relationship.

I also like the simple and honest way that you handled Mary's ongoing role as mother -- not only of Jesus, but of other real as well as spiritual children -- in your novels. I have become thoroughly disgusted over the years with the "official doctrine" of Perpetual Virginity, of which there is NO scriptural evidence, indeed much evidence to the contrary. Again, just one more example of male attempts to control female sexuality, regardless of the abuses this causes!

Xochitl said...

Hi Kitt,

I love the images highlighted here. And I have loved Alma Lopez art for a long time too! I of course pre-ordered the book and bought a poster of Our Lady! :-D I included her art in a paper I wrote a few years back on Queering Our Lady - it was fun to explore and rethink Our Lady of Guadalupe from a queer perspective. I grew up having her be an important part of my family's religious life, so she means a lot to me, but always in new ways! Thanks for remembering her on her feast day :)


Turtle Woman said...

And there is just something so great about our Lady wearing boxing gloves. Virginity is a completely male concept, but I view Our Lady of Guadalupe as a subtle resistence of Spanish male colonialism. The virgin being the goddess.

And when a goddess wears boxing gloves, well behare patriarchy!

KittKatt said...

I’m glad that this post was meaningful to so many people. I got some nice emails about it too. Trudie, I appreciate your insights on virginity, motherhood and the divine feminine.

Xochitl, is your paper on Queering Our Lady available online? If so, I will add a link to this post.

Turtle Woman, thanks for pointing out the boxing gloves!

CJ Barker said...

"If the Virgin Mary could appear to an Aztec as an Aztec, then why not show up to a queer as a queer?"


Turtle Woman said...

I think Mary has been in her lesbian incarnation many times CJ.
The Virgin Mary herself next had sexual relations with men, and if god is a woman, her pregnancy was a lesbian friendly event as well.

Lots of lesbian Marys have come and gone, probably a lot of them erased by patriarchy or killed by men... you know the pattern.

KittKatt said...

CJ, it's good to hear from you again.

I appreciate the discussion of virginity here. Lesbians who have never had intercourse with a man are sometimes called "gold star lesbians" in the lesbian community… they may fit the definition of virginity too. Also some lesbians have an affinity for the virgin goddess Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the wilderness, as an example of a woman who is strong without having sex with a man.

KittKatt said...

Upon reflection, I see that Guadalupe kissing Mary Magdalene may also represent the loving union of another pair of symbolic “opposites”: Mexican and European cultures. The real Mary Magdalene was Middle Eastern and thus probably darker skinned than the Caucasian-looking woman in Donis’ painting.

CJ Barker said...

Hi Trudie and Kitt-

Sorry I haven't been able to be on line as much as I'd like recently. My partner has been terribly sick - in and out of the hospital and skilled nursing 4 times since late September- so I've pretty much had my hands full.

What this post brought up for me is remembering how relatively recently it was that images of Jesus and Mary that weren't clearly European *were* controversial. That's pretty much long forgotten, at this point, but it really wasn't all that long ago that, especially among protestants, the idea of people having -and needing- a Christ "like them" wasn't all that ok. Remember the whole "curse of Ham" business? No way could it be ok to represent Our Lord as part of a cursed (non white) people.

That particular theological abomination existed, of course, to justify and excuse race based slavery and segregation, and to further colonial exploitation on all levels. And its rejection went hand in hand with rejecting and discrediting and challenging and *changing* those institutions and arrangements.

Sometimes I think we don't think long enough or hard enough about *why* it is that people who have no problem with a "historically inaccurate" Jesus or Mary (black, asian, brown-red, red, blonde-white, dressed in ethnic - including ethnic european- garb) can and will still absolutely fly off the handle about "messing" with gender, sexual identity, or sexual orientation. Whose interests does that serve?

We live in a world - on a planet- that is groaning under the weight of an economic system that deifies consumption, justified by a theological and philosophical system that deifies our human ability to measure things -though that system is usually not named as either a "theological" or "philosophical" construct; it calls itself "the scientific method" and names anyone who chooses to speak of its limitations as "backwards" and "irrational." It - and it alone- controls what does -and does not- constitute "evidence" and "reality" and "truth" for all legal purposes. You cross it at your peril.

What I liked about your quote, Kitt, is that it simply and pithily (? is that even a word???) asked *exactly* the right question. Why *not* appear to a queer as a queer? Beneath the homophobia, beneath the misogyny, beneath the heterosexism and heterocentrism and transphobia and any other construct you can create to name hatred and fear of people whose sex or sexual and gender expressions aren't liked, what I find when I look at that "why not?" question is what I named above.

Why not? Because without people to hate and blame, without someone to name as the locus of ultimate evil, people who believe in systems of knowing that are older than the modern scientific one, might actually *notice* the damage its current iteration is wrecking, and offer an alternative (or two or three or five, or five *thousand,* or five *million*). They might look in the mirror, see their own part in it, and get convicted. They might decide the way we've been using it is evil, question its hegemony, and begin to *change* it in all *kinds* of ways.

So no, we can't have Jesus and Mary appearing to queers as queers. We can only have the Devil doing that. Queers *have* to be *the* thing that stinks most in God's nostrils on all this earth. Because - if they aren't - well, who knows *what* else might actually turn out to be????

KittKatt said...

CJ, your analysis is in-depth and insightful, as usual. Prayers for your partner’s health.

I’m not sure that controversies over non-European Jesus images are long forgotten. It was only 10 years ago that some people were outraged by the dark-skinned “Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie. It’s featured in the recent post here about the Hybrid Christ

I like your description of scientific method as “a theological and philosophical system that deifies our human ability to measure things.”
This reminds me of Descartes’ famous dream in which an angel said to him, “The conquest of nature is to be achieved through measure and number.” That revelation became the basis for modern science. Would an angel really say such a thing?

Sam said...

First off I am a Straight Mormon. Ok don't delete me yet. I have to admit at first when I saw this I won't say I was offended but I was shocked. I was raised with an Uncle and his Husband so that has always been a part of my life but seeing the "Christian" faith "attacked" in art was out there. But as I read more and more I realized that CJ is right God is to each of us what we need Him or Her or It to be. And I loved the boxing gloves and show of power and strength. So many sit each day and criticize or judge because someone is gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor, single, married, whatever reason, it shouldnt matter but to too many people it does, even today and I am happy to see some people still doing what they believe no matter what other people are going to say about it.

KittKatt said...

Thanks, Sam, for your tolerance and for taking the time to share your story as a straight Mormon. Artist Alma Lopez added the boxing gloves to Our Lady after her more gentle version was attacked as blasphemy. You are obviously in harmony with Jesus’ own idea: “Judge not, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Anonymous said...

Esto es intolerante y blasfemo.
Yo no creo que a un homosexual le guste la idea de que lo traten de hererosexual.
Por lo tanto la utilización de imagenes de personas que no dieron su consentimiento, ni motivos para estas fotos es una falta de respeto. Eso como mínimo.
Ni Cristo, Ni la virgen, ni los santos fueron homosexuales asi que usted los esta difamando.
Difamando como si a un homosexual se lo tratara de heterosexual.
Lo siento. Soy una persona tolerante y no puedo soportar esta clase de intolerancia bajo la excusa de "arte".

KittKatt said...

I don’t usually approve anonymous negative comments, but I decided to approve the previous Spanish comment because it is fairly thoughtful in voicing criticism. First, here is a rough English translation:

It is intolerant and blasphemous.
I do not think a homosexual like the idea of being treated for hererosexual.
Therefore the use of images of people who did not consent or reasons for these photos is a lack of respect. That minimum.
Neither Christ, nor the Virgin, the saints were gay and so is slandering you.
Slandering a homosexual like it tried to heterosexual.
Sorry. I am a tolerant person and I can not stand this kind of bigotry under the guise of "art".

My response is that there is good evidence that at least some of the saints were gay, and some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was involved in homosexual relationships too.

So isn’t it “slander” to assume that they are all heterosexual? They didn’t consent to having their images used by religious conservatives either.

Anonymous said...

No matter how you look at the image of the kissing Mama Mary/our lady of Guadalupe and Mary Magdalene, it's all wrong. No explanation can be accepted to it. Your fighting for the right and equality of LGBT? Fine, but you can NEVER use this as a form of defence. What were you thinking? We all have the right to fight for our rights and equality, I have nothing against LGBT, I have gay friends. Know some lesbian. Please always bear in mind that MOTHER MARY IS THE MOTHER GOD and though Mary of Magdala was a Prostitute she totally changed and became a follower of Christ. I'm not playing holy or hypocrate here but as a born Catholic and will Die as one, I really could not take this. And also the Our Lady of Controversy.

As far I know, no artist (catholic/chriatians) made such kind. Mother Mary's images are humble, meek, and/or with the Lord then I see these. Oh my goodness. I'm also an artist, member of he Church as choir, youth and altar server and have been a contributor or some drawings of our official magazine.

To the artist, please have Mercy. Other religion forsure havr given bad commenys like Catholic disrespect mother mary, that Catholics are anti-Christ, blasphemous etc etc.

PLEASE....... Thank you!

Kittredge Cherry said...

I do not intend to insult Mother Mary, but to affirm that sexuality is part of God’s good creation.

Stephanie's Treasury said...

How Dare You - This is a Vile and Evil Image! May the Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother, the Most Holy Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and my Mother, have Mercy on your soul!

Kittredge Cherry said...

I post these images out of respect for Mary, based on the understanding that God created some people gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or otherwise "genderqueer."

Stephanie's Treasury said...

Kittredge, I am a practicing Catholic Christian, and I know very well who the Holy Blessed Virgin Mary is and what she represents to me and other Catholic Christians. Let's say I believe that you are that naive and that you enjoy twisting life and the truth, so you can feel safe and validated in your own little world. Then at best you are a deceiver - the Mother of God was not gay! In your befuddled mind, you are posting these images out of respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary?? No, I don't think so - you are posting this vulgar and disrespectful image to please yourself and you don't care how it offends and wounds those of us that call her Mother and the Mother of God! You are also disrespecting the Lord Jesus Christ, her son!

I ask you to please remove this disgusting image of my Mother and our Mother and choose someone who better represents the gay lifestyle. Please leave God, His Mother and our precious non-gay saints out of this! I would think it would make you proud and be more empowering to you and the gay community to choose someone that represents you and your lifestyle. You know someone who is actually gay - you have a lot of worthy candidates to choose from.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Stephanie's Treasury, it's possible that you don't care how your comment offends and wounds LGBT Christians like me.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, why don't you go and write your own blog and do your own creative work. Last I heard, we had first amendment rights in America, and obviously you don't seem very artistically inspired. There's nothing vulgar or disrespectful of powerful modern images of Mary. Gays do not have a lifestyle, gays have a life. So go back to the right wing FOX news gang, and the right wing Catholics that even Pope Francis is challenging, but you are not going to intimidate or attack another Christian just because she's not a fundamentalist!

Stephanie's Treasury said...

Kittredge, So you really are that naive... If you truly were a "practicing Christian" you would instinctively know what you are doing is not proper and not truthful. You don't get to rewrite the New Testament to suit your opinion and/or experience of life. So as I am a practicing Christian, I am informing you that what you are doing by posting this image is wrong and disrespectful. Why don't you post an image of the Most Holy Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene embracing, sitting together or talking. Why is it all about sex with those of you in the gay community? Why don't you choose an image that respectful, wholesome and dignified? Post an image that doesn't pervert the relationship between the Mother of God and St. Mary Magdalene. Both women for sure were holy, respectful and loving. What I understand from reading the scriptures is that the Blessed Virgin Mary was very much a mother figure to Mary Magdalene instead of a lover character.

Kittredge, I haven't contacted you to offend or wound you, but unfortunately you did this first by posting this improper and disrespectful image. Or are you making the statement that only your feelings and experiences matter?



Stephanie's Treasury said...

Kittredge, I came upon these quotes today and I thought I would share them with you. The saints had a deep respect and devotion to our Mother.

"To give worthy praise to the Lord's mercy, we unite ourselves with Your Immaculate Mother, for then our hymn will be more pleasing to You, because She is chosen from among men and angels. Through Her, as through a pure crystal, Your mercy was passed on to us. Through Her, man became pleasing to God; Through Her, streams of grace flowed down upon us." (1746)
--St. Faustina

“The greatest saints, those richest in grace and virtue will be the most assiduous in praying to the most Blessed Virgin, looking up to her as the perfect model to imitate and as a powerful helper to assist them.”
--Saint Louis Marie de Montfort

"Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in the distressing guise of the poor."
--Blessed Mother Teresa

"If you invoke the Blessed Virgin when you are tempted, she will come at once to your help, and Satan will leave you."
--St. John Vianney

"The Immaculate alone has from God the promise of victory over Satan. She seeks souls that will consecrate themselves entirely to her, that will become in her hands forceful instruments for the defeat of Satan and the spread of God's kingdom."
--St. Maximilian Kolbe

"Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle."
--St. Josemaria Escriva

Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.
--Saint Francis de Sales

”Not only do they offend thee, O Lady, who outrage thee, but thou art also offended by those who neglect to ask thy favors . . . He who neglects the service of the Blessed Virgin will die in his sins . . . He who does not invoke thee, O Lady, will never get to Heaven . . . Not only will those from whom Mary turns her countenance not be saved, but there will be no hope of their salvation . . . No one can be saved without the protection of Mary.
--Saint Bonaventure, Cardinal-Bishop and Doctor of the Church

”A man is no true Christian if he has no devotion to the Mother of Jesus Christ.”
--Saint John Eudes

”Let not that man presumes to look for mercy from God who offends His Holy Mother!"
--Saint Louis Marie de Montfort

“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.”
--Saint Therese of Lisieux

“What a joy to remember that she [Mary] is our Mother! Since she loves us and knows our weakness, what have we to fear?”
--Saint Therese of Lisieux