Sunday, April 21, 2013


As shown from the above posts, artwork can be extremely important in questioning conventional ideas and beliefs of a certain society. Christian Chicana feminist artists used their work to challenge the patriarchal society that they live in and even the patriarchal society of Biblical times. Through their work they promote a strong, prominent feminine figure, one who does not need a man to survive. They offer a role model to women of all ages and hopefully promote a new-found interest in young people’s religion by renewing faith in a traditional religious figure. 

Not only that, but the Virgin of Guadalupe is depicted as a brown women, so these artists are challenging cultural and race barriers as well. They are asking Christians to consider whether their Blessed Mother was actually a Caucasian woman, like the traditional European story of Mary, or whether she may in fact have been a woman of color. If this is indeed the case, maybe racist feelings toward other cultures will subside in people with religious backgrounds and they in turn can help curb racism among the rest of the world. It is a lofty idea, but religion may in fact be the easiest and best way to end ideas like racism or sexism (even though sexism may have risen from patriarchal religions).

This religious mixing of races, cultures, and genders can be seen not only in the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but also in artwork featuring the Black Madonna and in pilgrimages to Marian sites by Muslim and Buddhist followers. The Christian Mother of God seems to bring all types of people together, people who for the most part respect each other’s beliefs and cultures. If more religions can expand on this nondiscrimination aspect of their faith, whether through artwork, literature, or group gatherings, they can set precedence for other groups of people to set the same kind of standards for their group and hopefully promote a safe, welcoming environment for people of all walks of life. 

The Virgin Seamstress and Virgin Grandmother

     Yolanda Lopez’s other images in the trilogy, although not as well known, are extremely important in completing her feminist viewpoint. The Virgin Seamstress and Virgin Grandmother are two of Lopez’s portrayals of the Virgin that are unique in the fact that they offer an older interpretation of the usually young Mother of God (Q&A).The image of the seamstress is an image of Lopez’s mother sewing at the Naval Training Center (Latinopiacom). 

     Lopez was unhappy that there were no images of Chicana working women and thought that there was no better way of getting that idea across than by taking the ubiquitous Virgin of Guadalupe and making her into a working woman. Again, this follows the more active role that Lopez wants the Virgin to portray, rather than the passive one. She wanted to prove that the Virgin and essentially Chicana women were “mobile, hardworking, assertive, working class, strong, and solid nurturers” (Q&A). 

     She once again associates aspects of the traditional images in her painting, by making the Virgin sew the blue cloak of gold stars in front of a halo with the angel watching her near a pile of roses below. This image is very powerful because it is one of the most relatable images of the Virgin in Christian art. Women can feel that they not only have a role model, but also someone to relate to, rather than just picturing the Virgin as a distant religious figure.

      This idea also carries on to the picture of the Virgin as Lopez’s grandmother as she looks like a relatable and down to earth figure. In this painting, traditional aspects of the Virgin include the blue cloak with gold stars that the grandmother is sitting on, the angel carrying the arch of roses, and the grandmother holding the snake skin in her hands. She is once again surrounded by a halo. 

     One of the most important aspects of this image is the fact that Lopez’s grandmother was Native American (Q&A); therefore, she is another strong woman of color. This is also significant because Juan Diego was supposed to be Indian, so Lopez could be relating the past Virgin sighting with the present. Lopez always thought the Virgin reminded her of the Aztec goddess Cuatlique, with a “strong, indefinable hold on Mexicans and women”, a bringer of life, death, and rebirth (Latinopiacom). This is definitely relating the past Aztec views of life to the more modern Christian views, proving that the past and the present should mesh rather than collide. She is also demonstrating that the Virgin is one of the most powerful women the Mexican people come in contact with, even if it is only spiritually. This hopefully promotes an interest in feminism or women’s rights at least because after seeing these images, there is no reason for women to feel any inferior to men in religion or in society in general. 

Yolanda Lopez and the Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe

Another feminist artist that creates unique and unconventional portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe is Yolanda Lopez. Lopez is known for creating three distinct images of Mary, the most well-known called Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe or Virgin Running (Q&A). This image is quite different from both the conventional Virgin, as well as Alma Lopez’s portrayal of the Virgin. In this first painting, Yolanda Lopez portrays herself as a strong, active young woman ready for anything. The Virgin has some traditional aspects such as the blue cloak with gold stars and the halo around her body, but overall, this is not the traditional, submissive, down gazing Virgin of Guadalupe. She is shown running with white tennis shoes, crushing both the Satan-like snake in her hand, and the angel beneath her, the angel used to hold her up in traditional images. Lopez is demonstrating that women do not need anyone to hold them up; they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

This portrayal was quite offensive to some people as most people were accustomed to a view of the Virgin as a mother, passive yet loving. Lopez and her printing companies were actually threatened when these images came out because her fellow Christians were so offended by them (Q&A). Lopez disregarded the threats and continued to feel satisfied with her active powerful female icon because she wanted to show that “people in the margins have risen up to take their power” (Q&A). Lopez is obviously referring to her fellow women of color whom she believes should take both an active role in society and an active role in religion. In this way, she was hoping that her images would provide role models to women of all ages, that they need not be passive and quiet to be successful or looked upon as a strong woman; a powerful, lively woman is something to be desired. 

Alma Lopez and the Scandalous Virgin

While many people are familiar with the traditional view of the Virgin of Guadalupe, many Chicana feminists like to portray the Virgin Mary in other ways, some of which may be offensive to the general population. Many Chicana feminist artists have painted the Virgin in unique and unconventional ways that have elicited a negative response from some of the Mexican traditionalist population, while being praised by queers and feminists.

One such artist is Alma Lopez. Alma Lopez depicted the Virgin in a bikini made of roses, brown, bare body exposed, with her other clothing either behind her or folded neatly away (Calvo, 205). Her cloak is designed with images of the rebellious Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, she is standing on a naked and pierced angel, her hands are on her hips, and her gaze is cast outwards (Calvo, 205). This is extremely different from the modest, fully clothed, downcast Virgin of the traditional image. In this sense, it is understandable that many people would be highly unhappy with this over sexualized image of their country’s mother, for many people would not want their role model to be viewed as a loose prostitute or associated with any of the other connotations that comes with the image of a half clothed woman. Lopez and her supporters’ argument is that if people continue to portray the Virgin as submissive and passive, then society is regressing, and is not promoting women’s rights (Calvo, 207).

As a queer woman, Lopez believes that women’s rights are extremely important and that she is not intentionally putting a negative spin on the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is simply challenging patriarchal society both in Christian tradition and in present day. Lopez argues that she has freedom of expression and freedom of speech in America and therefore is allowed to put sexuality and desire into her images to get her point across. 

The Traditional Virgin of Guadalupe

The most famous portrayal of Mary in Chicana art is of the Virgin of Guadalupe, when Mary appeared to a poor Indian, Juan Diego on his ventures to Mexico City in December of 1531 (Pelikan, 177). This story has become popular in Chicana art because of two things. One, Juan Diego was an Indian man, so this story highlights a person of color, rather than a Caucasian figure, demonstrating that Christianity was not only for those of white backgrounds. In fact, even the Virgin is portrayed as brown in most stories and murals (Calvo, 201-202). Secondly, this story breaks the barrier of a male dominated society, because a female religious figure comes to spread the good word, rather than a male figure. In this way, feminists are thrilled because Mexico now has a female figure to look up to rather than a male one in their often male dominated society.

     For the past 500 years Mexico has looked to a feminine figure to guide them and help with their decisions as the Virgin of Guadalupe has become a Mexican national symbol and has been called the Mother of the Americas (Pelikan, 181). She has become so popular that her image can now be found on t-shirts, tattoos, bumper stickers, and artwork all around Mexico (Calvo, 201). The people of Mexico adore her because she can take on so many meanings. 

     Traditionally, the Virgin of Guadalupe is seen as a “sorrowful mother, a figure who embodies the suffering of Chicano/a and Mexican populations in the context of colonization, racism, and economic disenfranchisement,” so many Mexicans feel comfortable coming to her with their sufferings (Calvo, 201). The original La Virgen de Guadalupe portrays this feeling by depicting Mary as a young woman in a long sleeved gown and blue mantel with gold stars with her hands in prayer and eyes cast down. She stands on a dark crescent moon held by a tiny angel (Calvo, 204-205). This image is popular because it is sure to bring instant catharsis to anyone who is suffering, but it should also bring comfort to know that the Virgin is always there with them as Mother of God and Mother of Mexico. For most people, nothing is more comforting than knowing there mother is looking out for them. 

Art and the Virgin Mary

Artwork has been an outlet for ideas and opinions for hundreds of years. Artwork, especially religious artworks evokes emotions in the viewers that may not be present when listening to a speaker or reading a work of literature. This makes art a very powerful tool when trying to convey an idea or feeling.

On the topic of women contributing to religion, one of the ways women can easily do so is to convey their beliefs through some type of work of art, whether that be through a statue, painting, or carving. Women tend to feel more comfortable creating an image of one of their own, which is why the Virgin Mary from the Christian traditions, one of the most important religious feminine role models, is a common theme for women religious artists. Jaroslav Pelikan, author of Mary through the Centuries claims that Mary is more feminine than Jesus is masculine and that she is “more of an inspiration to more people than any other woman who ever lived” (1-2). It is no wonder then why Mary is so popular in religious women’s works of art. She is a true role model.

This popularity for the portrayal of Mary has also been fueled by the recent Mary sightings throughout the world in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico, and Portugal (Pelikan, 3). These places then become shrines to the Blessed Mother with women and men from all cultures and all religions including Islam and Buddhism visiting to view the artwork and spirit of the place (Jansen, 295-311). In this respect, the artwork of the Virgin Mary is extremely important in shedding light on how followers view her. Traditionally, Mary is seen in European cultures as a young woman with a halo praying, wearing white and blue to symbolize purity, and often holding her child, Jesus. While this is the most well-known portrayal of her, many other cultures from around the world display Mary images in other ways, favoring aspects of their own cultures and beliefs.  

Women in Religion

In the Christian faith, most of the focus is on men. Jesus, Joseph, the apostles, and the authors of the Bible were all notable men that people of the current centuries discuss, draw, and write about. Because this generation came from a patriarchal society, the followers of this faith incorporated patriarchal aspects into their everyday life. That being said, women were not always a huge part of conducting religious matters. However, this has changed in recent years in not only Christian faiths, but others as well.

Carol Ochs, Coordinator of Graduate Programs and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, claims that there are several ways that women are now contributing to religion (184). These ways include expanding the norm, interpreting biblical history, restructuring religion, enlarging the human boundary conditions, and understanding that humans are created in the image of God (Ochs, 50).  

Ochs believes that women can expand the standard of religious women by promoting the stories of women in the Bible and pointing out Biblical people who did not follow the typical patriarchal standards of society at the time (50-51). By doing so women can demonstrate to both other women and men that women were still a huge part of Jewish and Christian faiths, even though men were sometimes more prominent. This will hopefully invite modern day women to be more active participants in their religion if they want women’s stories to be heard and feminist religious images to be shared. Along a similar note, Ochs determined that women can expand Biblical history by not solely looking at male dominated activities such as conquests and wars, but also looking at trade, cooking, and day to day living (51).

She also believes that women can restructure religion by providing a greater openness to God’s presence (Ochs, 52). She argues that women look at the ethics of the situation and the entire Biblical background of an event whereas men tend to focus on one single aspect only (Ochs 52), making it seem that women should be the interpreters of history rather than men because they have a better view of the whole picture. It would certainly be useful to analyze the Bible from both a patriarchal and feminist perspective in order for followers to get a better religious perspective. Ochs says that if women enlarge the human boundary conditions of circumstance, conflict, guilt, suffering, and death this perspective can be gained (53).

The last and one of the most important ways Ochs believes women can contribute to religion is from women’s understanding that all people are created in the image of God (54). She states that women are more often not the primary caretakers of children and are the only ones to experience childbirth (55). In this way, women are responsible for boosting their child’s self-confidence and making them feel like worthwhile children of God. If women are successful in their task, children will feel a special connection to God and their religion, therefore expanding their faith. Not only that, but they will feel the need to share their faith with others through praying, religious literature, or even religious artwork.