I Saw You, Sor Juana
This digital collage was recently exhibited at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, in a show called Queer Art and the Church.
It was inspired by a quote by Sor Juana de la Cruz, a Catholic nun in New Spain (now Mexico) in the 17th century. She’s considered the first Mexican writer, as well as an early feminist for her support of education for females.
I studied her writings in college, but recently, I learned about another dimension to Sor Juana. She wrote love poems to other women and may have had a relationship with Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, the vicereine of Mexico.
This news dropped on me like a bomb: a delicious, rebellious water-balloon of a bomb. Like many who were raised Catholic, I heard my share of stories about nuns’ cruelty toward their students. (It was for this reason that I gratefully attended public school). I was also on the receiving end of the Catholic church’s intolerance, having been dragged down a hallway at age 11 by my shirt collar and tossed into the priest’s office on suspicion of being gay (bless those CCD teachers for knowing before I did!).
These formative experiences, as well as a devotion to camp, have ensured a life-long fascination with nuns. Sor Juana’s lesbian poetry and crushes spoke to me on many levels: for her clear rebellion against Church teachings and determination to live her own life (go girl!), her adamant declarations of love for women, and her sense of the romantic. There is no whiff of shame or even hesitation in her poems. “I saw you — need more be said?”, a line from My Divine Lysis and the title of my digital collage, sums up her directness.
This collage playfully examines some dichotomies related to Sor Juana’s outward fame versus her private life. By collaging fragments of her manuscripts and her image on the Mexican 200-peso bill, I acknowledge the respect she is accorded, while tapping into the campiness of nuns and lesbians through pulp images.
Viva Sor Juana!