Irish bishop criticises ‘Our Lady in bikini’ exhibit
The uproar over a 'disrespectful' image of the Virgin Mary shows it is time to abolish Ireland's blasphemy laws
Published on 24 June 2011 by The Guardian
Alma Lopez's Our Lady makes use of popular images, such as this, of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. Photograph: Reuters
University College, Cork, is the jewel in the crown on the majestic head of Cork city. The limestone Victorian quad, the ornate Honan chapel and the state-of-the-art Tyndall National Institute (recently visited by Queen Elizabeth) are all sources of pride for an already proud people.
Today the university’s department of Hispanic studies hosts the catchily titled “Transitions and Continuities in Contemporary Chicano/Chicana culture“. What sounds like a niche event has gained notoriety because of an art exhibition taking place as part of the seminar.
In Our Lady and Other Queer Santas, Chicana artist Alma Lopez will exhibit her picture Our Lady, a digital pastiche of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a 16th-century Peruvian manifestation of the Virgin Mary. More precisely, it is, in Lopez’s words, “an image of a 40-year-old woman with her belly and legs exposed standing on a black crescent moon held by a bare-breasted female butterfly angel”. The Madonna in a bikini, basically. So an obscure piece by an artist unknown in this part of the world is being exhibited as part of an academic conference on a specialist topic. You’re wondering where this is going, aren’t you?
A SENIOR GARDA in Cork has reportedly said that a file is being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to an exhibit at University College Cork this week.
On last Friday’s Liveline, one of Ireland’s most popular radio shows, presenter Joe Duffy was flooded with calls from irate Catholics mortified by this “blasphemous” artwork. One recounted the story of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and then told how “Microsoft and Nasa” had recently used a special microscope which had proved the miraculous nature of the image of Mary that had appeared on the poncho of Juan Diego. Their calls for bans and protests were countered by Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, who later commented: “It was like discussing the rules of quidditch with people who believe Harry Potter was a documentary.”
Then John Buckley, Catholic bishop of Cork and Ross, chimed in, describing the exhibition as “unacceptable”, adding “respect for Mary, the mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives”. Which neatly ignores the recently discovered fact that some Irish people aren’t devout Catholics, or even Catholic at all.
Buckley’s not a bad man, by no means the stern Bishop Brennan type represented in Father Ted. To be honest, he’s a bit more of daft-but-likeable Dougal. My main two memories of the man from Cork are of him regularly visiting my primary school in the 80s and distributing Fox’s Glacier Fruits (an odd, but not unwelcome choice of sweet), and years later, promising at a victory homecoming rally for the Cork hurling team that if they won the All-Ireland final for a third time in a row, he would personally ask the Pope to visit Cork, to a notably muted response from the assembled fans. He’s also a noted fan of road bowling, in which contestants hurl cannonballs down country roads. With all that, it was a bit of a surprise to hear him come out with such strong words.
UCC’s Atheist Society has organised a counter protest. Image via Facebook
Cork South Central TD Jerry Buttimer chimed in, saying the university should not be supporting an event that was “overtly blasphemous and blatantly disrespectful” and that “those in charge at UCC should consider whether or not it is appropriate to permit this exhibition to take place on its campus without affording others the opportunity to present an alternative and balanced point of view”. Protests and counter-protests were scheduled for Friday by Catholic activists and the university’s atheist society.
All this would be amusing if it was happening in a vacuum, but the combination of factors here make this case particularly poisonous. Lopez has been under attack for her artwork since it was first exhibited in California in 2001. The current campaign is headed by America Needs Fatima, a Mariolatrous US group that organises anti-abortion and anti-blasphemy rallies. Lopez’s adaptation of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, an image familiar to Chicana women, into an image of a Chicana woman has clearly rattled their cage.
Ireland, meanwhile, is facing its first blasphemy controversy since the Fianna Fáil/Green government introduced a new blasphemy law. Buckley’s claim that all Irish people revere Mary chimes dangerously with that law’s definition of blasphemy as something likely to cause “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of [a] religion”. UCC could yet have a case on its hands.
When the blasphemy law was introduced, the government claimed feebly that a referendum to remove the constitutional requirement that made it “necessary” would be too expensive. Yet this October, people in Ireland will take part in a referendum on judges’ pay, on the same day as the presidential election. Can they now be allowed to vote on this unwanted law too?
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culchiewoman · 6 days ago
Such a shame they aren't as worried about the very real atrocities perpetrated against women in Cork, in Magdalene Laundries. Or the way women were treated down the road where I was born at Bessboro'. The Church (or State) can't utter an apology to these women, yet they feel it appropriate to play art critics? Michael Nugent's comments are hilarious but mild in comparison to the harsh truth of hypocrisy these people display. Would that it had to do with an innocent game of Quidditch.