I love art. I especially love certain women’s art – women such as Frida Kahlo, Cathy Ashworth, Sudie Rakusin, and Alma Lopez. To me, their art is a reflection of women’s strength, creativity, and beauty. Frida Kahlo, for example, expressed so many aspects of herself and her experience through her art. In it one can glimpse her passionate love for Diego Rivera, her continuous physical pain, her search for meaning, and the unending hopefulness she maintained throughout it all. Frida Kahlo’s art, like her person, was vibrant and full of life, colorful and yet broken. She expressed the wide spectrum of her experience not in words only but in color and images, texture, paint and print. As she put it, “I paint my own reality” – her own reality is what she knew and it is what she painted.
I rely on art to do what academics often cannot do well – what I cannot do well – which is to communicate the truths that rattle our being down to its deep core in ways that connect with others. There have been times in my academic life when I have encountered new insights that changed my life forever. Moments of being shaken and awakened at my very core by a truth that until then had eluded me. But such moments can be hard to share with others because they can be hard to translate to words, even if such moments have come to me by words. Learning about feminist theology and being shaken by the truths it spoke to me is one such encounter – and it was indeed an academic one that is often hard for me to put into words and explain to others. On the other hand, encountering Alma Lopez’s artwork was also a core rattling moment, but one which I can more easily share.
Alma Lopez’s Our Lady is a digital art piece in which Our Lady of Guadalupe is depicted (embodied, really) in a more obviously female form than is traditionally expected. For this, every time her piece is on exhibit, Lopez receives a barrage of protest and harassment – as does the sponsoring institution. Accusations of obscenity, profanity, and blasphemy come her way. But, why?
When I see Lopez’s Our Lady, I do not see blasphemy or obscenity, I see a celebration of the female and the sacred. I see the beauty of God’s queer incarnation – and I remember – I remember that the word became flesh and made her home among us. From the womb of a woman’s body, her life-giving body, the divine took human shape. Boundaries of sacred and profane forever blurred.
Alma Lopez, like Frida Kahlo, paints her own reality; she says this piece is a reflection of her relationship with Our Lady of Guadalupe, a divine image that has been part of her life since she was very young. But I also think she reveals something more than just her personal relationship with Our Lady…
From a Christian theological perspective, Our Lady confronts us all with the truth of the Divine’s relationship with women’s bodies – the Word first became flesh in the body of a woman. The boundaries are broken, false partitions collapse – inextricably related – you, me and the Divine. Art can communicate the truths that rattle our being down to its deep core, and judging from the protests Alma Lopez’s work receives, this rattling truth is something many people would rather resist. But to me, Alma’s work will continue to be a reminder of women’s strength, courage, and creativity – it is the reality I know and for which I am forever grateful.