As Santa Fe’s religious tradition and cultural attitudes diverge, the symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe assumes new roles. Among New Agers, she is a symbol of the divine Goddess; to feminists, she is an archetype of the power of women despite religious oppression; to the art world, she is a symbol of tension between the contemporary and the historic. Traditionalists feel as though modern depictions of the virgin are disrespectful and vulgar, and this conflict is no more apparent than here in Santa Fe. The community’s response to the SFR Summer Guide cover from 2013 and backlash against the Santa Fe New Mexican for its more recent decision to run a photographic illustration of a less-than-virginal virgin are just two examples. It’s safe to say that Lady Guadalupe is highly regarded and often fiercely defended.
Despite this, Rachel Houseman, the owner and curator of Eye on the Mountain Gallery, proceeds confidently. Last year, the gallery opened a group show of personal interpretations of the symbol, some modern and some traditional. "We allowed the female body to be sacred," Houseman says. The exhibit was designed to express the beauty of the virgin and to convey the personal importance that each artist finds in the symbol. Controversy erupted around the piece Three Goddesses in One by the painter Paz Winshtein, which showed lots of Mary skin and depicted her wearing a necklace of skulls, but there was also dialogue between the traditional Catholics and the modern artists.
This year, on the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Eye on the Mountain presents a show by 15 artists, including Winshtein and Jane Cassidy (whose Guadalupe is at left) with what can be called "provocative" pieces, among others. "I told the artists to get ready," Houseman says. If the past is a pattern, then these artists ought to prepare for public anger, backlash and even death threats—but they also ought to be prepared to speak their minds and defend their artistic vision.
What this exhibit really offers, and the point that Houseman stresses, is the chance for community dialogue through art. Rather than ignore the clash between traditional and modern, Houseman embraces it as an opportunity for learning and mind-opening—perhaps a new use of the symbol of the virgin, but nonetheless valuable as a tool for growth.
Annual Guadalupe Group Show
5-9 pm Saturday, Dec. 12. Free
Eye on the Mountain Gallery,
614 Agua Fría St.