The Virgin of Guadalupe is a historic piece of art. It depicts the story of the Virgin Mary appearing to Juan Diego in Guadalupe. The image is reverenced not only among Catholics in Mexico, but by the entirety of the Catholic Church. Recently, an art museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico put up an exhibit centered on the piece. One work was a copy of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but with the artist wearing a Bikini in the paining, in the place of the Virgin. Since its arrival, controversy has swirled around the museum. Protestors argue that the piece is offensive, while supporters cite free speech as a reason to keep it up. Being a private institution, the art museum is free to do whatever it wishes. The art museum in New Mexico, in the interest of respecting people, should remove the photo shopped painting.
The argument that the piece of the women in a bikini taking the place of the virgin is simply expressive art is credible, but not adequate. It may seem as though there should be no problems with showing it. However, if the museum had never shown the bikini virgin piece to begin with, there may never have been any controversy. Regardless as to whether the freedom of speech argument or the respect argument wins, the museum chooses what gets shown and what does not.
While allowing people to say what they please is important, not encroaching upon their beliefs takes precedence. In the United States all people are free to worship how they choose. This is one of the rights the U.S. is built on. To force a piece of artwork on people that is potentially offensive is to disrespect the individuality and rights of other people. To expect to have our own beliefs respected, we must respect the beliefs of others. The Santa Fe museum, by displaying the bikini virgin of Guadalupe, is making a statement (intentionally or unintentionally) that the beliefs of a specific group of people do not matter.
This is a difficult issue, and whatever decision the museum makes has ramifications on all future exhibits. If the museum chooses to leave the controversial piece, where the line will be drawn comes into question. If the museum in Santa Fe chooses to remove the piece, they will have to be sure that there are no other offensive pieces of art in the museum. Leaving the piece is a statement that it is not the museum’s responsibility to determine what is unacceptably offensive and what is not. Letting it stay is a statement that offensive work will not be exhibited. Art should make us ask questions, it should broaden our minds. It should help us see other worlds. Art should show us how to appreciate other people’s cultures and beliefs. It is up to the Santa Fe art museum to make sure these qualifications are met.