As a proponent of separation of church and state, I normally would be up in arms about the placing of religious imagery on state property, but I find it hard to be too upset about it when said imagery features the Virgin Mary hanging ten on a surfboard. “Surfing Madonna” as the piece has come to be known, is a ten by ten foot glass mosaic depicting Mexico’s iconic Virgin of Guadeloupe riding a large wave on a white surfboard. The words “SAVE THE OCEAN” appear at the left.
The mosaic was put up anonymously on the wall of a concrete train bridge in the city of Encinitas, California on Good Friday (April 22) 2011. It was a source of both admiration and controversy from the moment it appeared. Local Catholics and the Latino community were split over whether it was art or desecration of a religious icon. The city of Encinitas declared it to be graffiti and its installation an act of vandalism. Although the actual owner of the overpass structure is a different government entity (the North County Transit District), the city announced that “Surfing Madonna” would have to be removed. When that occurred, artist Mark Patterson revealed that he was the mosaic’s creator and paid for its removal. Since then the artwork has remained in storage.
But that’s about to change.
From an editorial in UT San Diego:
The Paul Hastings law firm, working pro bono with local attorney Anton Gerschler, helped Patterson create the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project Foundation to pay for the Madonna’s installation on state-owned, but city-leased, land at the highly visible entrance to Moonlight Beach. The Mizel Family Foundation offered a $10,000 matching grant.
It’s not a done deal yet because of the question of whether displaying it at a state beach violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and both the city and the state still have to sign off on it, but a report by the Encinitas City Arts Commission pooh-poohs the idea that Surfing Madonna’s message of “SAVE THE OCEAN” is one of religious salvation:
The artist has identified his artwork … as a secular interpretation of the cultural figure Our Lady of Guadalupe. The depiction of the cultural figure surfing fits in with the character of the City. Encinitas is known as a ‘classic California beach town’ where surfing is a major attraction. A concern for the environment and in preserving natural resources is a high priority of the community.
So what’s your opinion?
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