Controversial Madonna Painting Opens Magnet HIV Clinic Art Show

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday October 10, 2013

When artist Peter Reynosa hung his homage to Madonna in an art show now running in the heart of the Castro, he worried that the controversial title, "I Am the Cunt of Western Civilization" might rile some people up. But for the folks at the local gallery/community center, the work meshes perfectly with their mission.

"This is a painting based upon a quote Madonna the singer said around 1990 at a Los Angeles party when asked to describe herself in one sentence," said Reynosa. "She said, 'I am the cunt of Western civilization.' I always thought this was her greatest quote, so I decided to do a painting of it as the theme. The word 'cunt' has a negative connotation and is often the cruelest and meanest word one can use to describe a woman. But here Madonna uses the word to take pride in her sexuality and also uses it to attack the notion that it is a bad thing for a woman to be thought of as a sexual thing. So, in fact, this is a very feminist quote."

The red and white acrylic painting depicts Madonna painted in the shape of a defiant yonic symbol that looks like a vagina or vulva. The moon in the painting symbolizes woman as goddess, as it was viewed by many cultures. Reynosa painted a road to symbolize woman as the future.

He said that people were "curiously surprised" by his painting and its connection to Madonna. Few people knew what a "yonic" symbol was, to which Reynosa said he humorously replied, "You male chauvinist pig!"

"I explained to them how it was sexually unfair to women that they knew what a phallic symbol was but not what a yonic symbol was," Reynosa told EDGE. "When I say women as the future, I believe that is a good thing and it means women are more and more becoming of equal worth and status in most of the modern countries. You could say it is a statement for feminism."

The painting was part of a group art show by the free community arts studio Hospitality House Community Arts Program. It is the only free-of-charge fine arts studio for homeless and poor artists in San Francisco, giving more than 250 artists each year the materials and space necessary to create, house, exhibit and sell their artwork, and boost their own self-esteem despite the damaging emotional effects of poverty.

The show was mounted at the Castro gallery/clinic Magnet as part of their monthly, curated art installments. And rather than incite controversy, the piece seems to fit perfectly with the gallery's mission statement to post art that relates to the mission of the clinic.

"We are at a prime location in Castro, and our gallery is modest -- we only have 18 pieces up," said Magnet Director Steve Gibson. "We ask artists not just to send a portfolio, but to tell us why you want to show here, why your art relates to Magnet. And we think Hospitality House is a perfect example of that."

The boutique health clinic serves many clients who are members of the Hospitality House, which is located in the Tenderloin, so it was a friendly face for them. Magnet has a storefront lobby on the Castro and a clinic in the back. For the past 10 years the front area has been used as a waiting room for clients and a gathering place for the community.

For the first couple years, Gibson said he reached out to his artist friends to hang art in the lobby, rotating works a few times a year. By the third year of business, artists were approaching Magnet asking if they could show their art. Now, they hang a new show every month; this year, 45 applicants applied for the 12 available slots, with a panel reviewing applicants each year in July. The lineup for 2014 has already been selected, said Gibson.

Gibson noted that in a gentleman's agreement with local business owners and parents, he has ensured that no explicit images are viewable from the street, so that passing students from the Friends of Harvey Milk and local elementary school don't accidentally glimpse material unsuitable for children. But inside the gallery, it is no holds barred.

"It is nice to be able to give a group show and give it a prominent location," said Bergan. "And maybe the title is controversial for him, or for other galleries, but not for us. I think that 'cunt' is not a word most of our clients are used to seeing, but we often will show sexually explicit images here, with full frontal nudity -- both full male and female, which many galleries won't do."

Magnet will donate 100 percent of profits to the Hospitality House artists; customarily, 25 percent goes to the gallery. The clinic is a program of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, designed to serve as a health and community center for gay men.

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.