Monday, December 12, 2011

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.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon
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


Al Cantwell said...

The *original* Lady of Guadalupe is in Extremdaura Spain and is black.,_Extremadura

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Al. I’ve been interested in the black Madonnas for a long time, but I didn’t know that the Mexican Guadalupe had roots in Spain. This link has some beautiful pictures of the black Madonna!

Al Cantwell said...

Hi, Kitt, you're welcome. Cortez, the conquistador of Mexico, was from Extremadura and brought the image of that Guadalupe to New Spain (as Mexico was known then). Many Mexican scholars believe the dark skin of the Spanish Madonna made her more acceptable to the dark-skinned indigenos the Spanish were subduing. Rius, the well-known Mexican cartoonist and author, wrote a couple of very interesting books on the subject. I love the nontraditional look of the black Madonnas.

The titles of the two books by Rius that I mentioned are "500 Anos Fregados Pero Cristianos" and "El Mito Guadalupano." The first one is far ranging; the latter is more narrowly focused on Guadalupe.