An episode of the television series Nurse Jackie gave Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez a shot of inspiration, which served as a catalyst for her “Queer Saints: Holy Violence” exhibit.
The “Queer Saints” exhibition, which is being shown at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., through January 9, includes paintings and silkscreen prints that bring the artist’s lesbian perspective to the saints she learned about as children. (Lopez’s website says that “most of [her] visual work raises questions about popular Mexican icons filtered through a radical Chicana feminist lesbian lens.”)
"It has these ideas about trying to connect to the spiritual images we grew up with," Lopez said.
Like Lopez, Nurse Jackie’s TV daughter learns about saints. The fictional Grace intrigued Lopez with her retelling of St. Lucy’s tale. St. Lucy, Grace tells her family, put out her eyes — but it was OK because God gave her new ones.
It wasn’t the story itself that surprised Lopez but the cavalier manner in which Grace shared it and the half-attentive manner with which her parents listened.
“All that was very much about how lightly we treat violence,” Lopez says, especially violence against women.
As Lopez, who now thinks of herself as a cultural Catholic, thought about the stories of the saints she heard about as a child, she thought about how many of them related to marriage and specifically to young women who refused to marry. She started thinking about gender and why the sainted young women would resist marrying men — maybe they had something in common with her?
And so, asking her wife and other women she knew to serve as her models, Lopez queered the saints in paint. She chose butch lesbians and women with masculine energy. Some visitors to the exhibit in Berkeley have also interpreted the works through a transgender lens.
Lopez is a visiting lecturer on Chicana/Latina art, arts censorship, and queer art at the University of California, Los Angeles.