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Kissing icons.

San Francisco

Cesar Chavez kissed Che Guevara? There's nothing in the history books to prove it. But that doesn't bother gay Latino artist Alex Donis. He has constructed a series of colorful Plexiglas panels of improbable kisses.

The kissing couples include Pope John Paul II with Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus with Lord Rama, John F. Kennedy with Fidel Castro, Christopher Columbus with an Aztec warrior, Adolf Hitler with a skeletal man, the Dalai Lama with Mao Tse Tung, Martin Luther King Jr. with a Ku Klux Klansman, and Madonna with Mother Teresa.

Donis calls his exhibit My Cathedral. It was displayed in the heart of San Francisco's Latino community. The series, which evokes stained-glass cathedral windows, turned the storefront Galeria de la Raza into a store-front church from August 19 through September 27.

My Cathedral received mixed reviews. Some praise its transgressions. "Alex Donis's work trounces across the barriers that divide love from hate, black from white, East from West, the sacred from the profane, and the physical from the spiritual," writes Coco Fusco, an artist and cultural theorist.

Others say it is blasphemy, an insult to the religious and political figures who spent their lives--and some who gave their lives--in the pursuit of justice and peace.

On two occasions, vandals threw rocks through the windows, damaging the panels of Che with Chavez and Jesus embracing Lord Rama. The damaged art was valued at about $5,000 per piece.

The Galeria de la Raza responded by removing the display and boarding up the outside wall with black plywood. The gallery painted a quote from Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, in large white calligraphic letters on the black field. It read, "Anyone who puts all their energy into destroying anger will be happy in this life and in lives to come."

Dino Piacentini, the marketing director for the gallery, also arranged a community meeting at a nearby theater to discuss the issue of homosexuality in the Latino community and the rights of artists to exhibit controversial works. About a hundred people showed up for the lively exchange of views.

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting supported the artist and the exhibit, but a few objected to the in-your-face aspect of the show.

Donis defended his work, saying it was an attempt to "draw connections between art and faith. In my fantasy, these figures are martyrs who do battle for my cause," he says. He adds that although the attack on the gallery was appalling, "hatred is a better response than not noticing it at all."
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Title Annotation:gay artist Alex Donis, Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco, California
Author:Armstrong, Bob
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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