- Virgen de Guadalupe, George Yepes, 2009
The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been used to give hope to marginalized people, instill a sense of cultural identity in others and encourage communities to fight for their human rights. December marked the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Judging from the works on display around Los Angeles, artists are still get inspired from this nearly 500-year-old Catholic icon.
by Lydia Breen
Artist George Yepes Photo credit: Chimmaya.com
George Yepes has been painting the Virgin of Guadalupe in one form or another all his life. His fasciantion started as a little boy when a painting of the Virgin inside his East Los Angeles church had him hooked.
His most recent work, Virgen de Guadalupe, (shown above) was on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute’s exhibit, Tepeyac Apparitions: La Virgen Revealed. Yepes’ Virgen is proud and defiant, reminiscent of his painting, Adelita, featured in the Autry Museum’s exhibit, “Bold Caballeros y Noble Bandidas”. [“Adelita” is the name given to women soldier/bandits who fought in the the Mexican Revolution.]
"Adelita" George Yepes credit: Autry Museum
The symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe – and that of Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant whom the Virgin chose as her messenger – have long been associated with revolutionaries and outlaws. The Mexican Revolution was sparked by the battle cry: “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe, Long Live Independence, ” a phrase attributed to the priest, Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla, who used the words in 1810 to rally his indigenous and mestizo parishioners.
José Guadalupe Posada's illustration of the Apparition
José Guadalupe Posada, an illustrator and political commentator, also used the image of the Virgin to rally populist sentiments during the Mexican Revolution.
During the 1970’s, the symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe was used by Ceasar Chavez to inspire farmworkers to fight for better working conditions.
In 1998, an elementary school principal in New Mexico banned the image on students’ clothing, calling it “gang-related” apparel.
"Si, se puede" Farmworkers hold a banner with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe Credit: Reuther Library, Wayne State Univ.
The school’s principal justified the ban as a precautionary measure against gang violence, but it reflects race and class misunderstandings that exist in many communities today.
George Yepes' El Tepeyac de Los Angeles at St. Lucy's Church in East L.A.
Three years earlier, Yepes addressed the human toll of gang violence in El Tepeyac de Los Angeles, which he painted above the entrance of St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in East L.A.
The mural depicts two Virgins, one in a traditional setting holding a baby, the other a mother grieving over the body of her son, killed in a gang fight. Yepes says his works are meant to show “the woman behind the divine.” Describing himself primarily as a portrait painter, his works pack the emotional punch of a mural, a medium he worked in for many years.
His recent Virgen doesn’t shy away from exploring the sensual side to this iconic figure. He leaves it up to us to decide what moment in the life of Mary he is portraying:
“Is it when she learns she is with child? Or when she sees her son suffering on the cross. Perhaps she is carrying the pain of her people – or the pain of mothers whose children are in distress.”
For more on how L.A. artists interpret the Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, see “Virgin as Goddess” and “Virgin as Muse”. Also see: Debra De La Cruz’s photo gallery of images of the Virgin around Los Angeles, click here.