Editor’s note: We thought the original version of this story would highlight an effort to help artists out of work because of coronavirus. Many of our readers reached out to tell us the satirical depiction of a religious and cultural figure is hurtful and inappropriate, especially given how disproportionately Black and Brown communities are affected by this pandemic. It was not our intention to hurt or offend anyone, but we realize we have. We’ve updated the story below to acknowledge the input we’ve received from readers.
CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to keep Chicagoans at home have become memes and even cardboard cutouts popping up in shuttered businesses. The latest Lightfoot-inspired creation? “Our Lady Of Quarantine” prayer candle.
The candles, however, received sharp backlash for being culturally insensitive, prompting the artists to stop the sales.
Caroline Moody, a tattoo artist who runs Copperplate Tattoo in Avondale, and artist KC Winter recently started selling the prayer candles anointing Lightfoot with the saintly title.
The candles’ image, made by Moody, shows Lightfoot holding a glowing roll of toilet paper while surrounded by chrysanthemums, Chicago’s official flower. The text at the top reads, “Our Lady Of Quarantine.”
But after the candles were publicized, multiple people including Chicago aldermen took to Twitter to say the candles are culturally insensitive.
“Chicago’s Latinx neighborhoods are currently the hardest hit by COVID-19. I can guarantee you that Latinxs who engage in Marian devotions, particularly to Our Lady of Guadalupe, will not be purchasing these culturally offensive and insensitive candles,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) tweeted.
A Change.org petition asking the artist to stop the sales also took issue with Mayor Lori Lightfoot being used in the imagery.
“Rather than put her on candles that make a mockery of Latinx religious practices we should be calling on Mayor Lightfoot to do right by the Latinx community,” according to the petition.
Reached by phone, Vicko Alvarez, the Humboldt Park-based artist and activist who launched the petition, said she feels Lightfoot hasn’t done enough to protect Chicago’s Latinx community during the coronavirus crisis.
“It adds insult to injury to take something that is so culturally relevant, so culturally important and use it to make our mayor look good,” she said
Moody said she was always fascinated with religious iconography growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. The artists chose Lightfoot for the prayer candle because of her humorous yet stern approach to leading during the coronavirus crisis.
“The memes are hilarious so it’s already been established how strongly she’s encouraging us to do what we gotta do to get the city healed, which I think it’s just great,” Moody said. “It’s humorous, so it’s drawing attention that way.”
After the backlash, Moody said she would stop selling the candles.
“I was raised Lutheran and have been around these prayer candles my whole life. My intent to sell the candles was to keep me from losing my queer, female-owned and operated tattoo studio,” she said. “My intent with this artwork was supposed to be lighthearted, and is based on an anglican European painting. I had no idea I would cause such offense and sincerely apologize to everyone I hurt. We’ll fulfill the orders we’ve received, but won’t be selling any more of these candles.”
Celebrity prayer candles are very popular on craft sites like Etsy and at craft fairs across the country. There are candles for Beyonce, Michelle Obama and “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness. Backlash to the candles isn’t new, either, as Vox reported last year:
“When Kim Kardashian sold a prayer candle with a photo of herself made to look like the Virgin Mary, there was quite a bit of backlash. Conservative groups have started petitions calling for the shutdown of the celebrity prayer candle retailer Illuminidol, saying the store is a ‘direct threat’ to the Catholic faith.”
Proceeds from the candles and stickers they already sold will directly benefit Moody and Winter, who have been hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown.
Moody said she hasn’t been able to secure any grants and she’s resorted to selling commissioned drawings and paintings to keep her five-year business afloat.
“We might lose our business,” she said, adding restaurants can offer carryout and delivery service but tattoo studios can’t.
“The one thing we want to do is continue on. Any proceeds are going to help with that,” Moody said.
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