- Religion as Art: Guadalupe, Orishas, and Sufi
The conference Towards a Theory for Religion as Art: Guadalupe, Orishas, and Sufi, sponsored by the Arts of the Americas Institute at the University of New Mexico, was held on May 12–14, 2004.This edited collection of essays, taken from the conference papers, has the strengths and weaknesses of most volumes of published conference papers. It develops an innovative interdisciplinary approach, incorporating art history, social history, and various types of cultural criticism and performance studies into the analysis of religious symbols, with a heavy emphasis on the Virgin of Guadalupe. Scholars interested in broadening the historical canon will find the discussion of music and dance especially interesting, though the broad sweep of the text leaves crucial aspects of the project somewhat underdeveloped. While the work will be an essential text for those concerned with the Virgin of Guadalupe, especially the migration and redefinition of this sacred symbol over space and through time, the excellent though comparatively few papers analyzing such topics as Afro-Cuban hybrid Christian forms and Islamic mysticism point to areas of research important enough to be developed more intensively.
The book consists of 23 individual submissions along with an introduction provided by conference organizer and volume editor Steven Loza. It is divided into five thematically unified parts; these include Guadalupe and the historical interpretation of religion as art; visual and poetic art, focusing on history, aesthetics, and religion; musical relationships of faith and art in celebrating the Guadalupe tradition; Guadalupe and the Native American experience; and comparative concepts in the praxis of religion as art. Interestingly, the conference was in part a response to and an analysis of the controversy engendered by Alma López’s feminist representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, included in the 2001 exhibit Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology at the International Folk Art Museum of Santa Fe. This controversy is expertly and fairly analyzed in the paper contributed by Janice Schuetz.
From a scholarly perspective, the exhibit and the subsequent protests revealed fascinating fissures and conflicts over identity within intersecting Mexican, Mexican-American, Catholic, artistic, feminist, lesbian, gay, and heterosexual communities. From a curatorial and administrative perspective, it almost certainly was a headache-inducing moment when artistic freedom clashed with deeply held beliefs, leading to an unexpected [End Page 151] but certainly not unprecedented cycle of public protest. There were heated meetings with the board of directors and an unscheduled early end to the exhibit. The depth and nuance of the papers presented at the Towards a Theory for Religion as Art conference and in its subsequent publication provide welcome relief and perhaps a reasonable road map for moving forward from this type of controversy, though of course only time will tell.
As a historian I found the papers in the first section—with well-researched and engagingly written essays by Francisco Miranda Godínez, Martinus Cawley, Linda B. Hall, and Stafford Poole—to be the most useful. Clearly, the origin of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the redefinition of this symbol over several centuries has inspired passion and controversy. Miranda Godínez’s analysis of the Marian tradition in reference to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin de Los Remedios and Francisco J. Crespo’s later discussion of la Virgin de La Caridad del Cobre/Ochún provide useful points of comparison from within the Latin American Catholic tradition. Other forms of popular religious expression, as well as thoughtful essays on mysticism in diverse ethnic and religious contexts, are also included.
The theorization of links between religious belief and artistic expression found in the essays is timely and constitutes a significant contribution of this volume, although it is not pursued in the depth this reviewer would have liked (due primarily to the “conference paper” format rather than to any shortcomings of individual authors). In the end, this is an intriguing collection of essays that provides a sustained investigation into the Virgin of Guadalupe, incorporating multiple disciplinary perspectives and transnational scholarly communities. The collection would have benefited...