Emiliano Zapata was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution before he was assassinated in 1919, at 39. Many Mexicans still consider him a hero. The painting "The Revolution" shows a naked shoe, with heels and pink overcoat, on a sexually excited horse Zapata’s “feminization” has inflamed the admirers of the revolutionary leader. Among the protesters were many communal farmers who admire Emiliano Zapata – who was a poor peasant – for his fight against land appropriation by the rich landowners.
” BURN IT; BURN IT” - With these shouts a group of protesters broke into the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, protesting against a painting that shows the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata in a striking and unconventional pose. They screamed, denouncing that the painting, which shows Zapata naked, with high heels and pink overalls, mounted on a horse with an erection. The grandson of the revolutionary, Jorge Zapata González, demands that the painting be removed. “For us relatives, this denigrates the figure of our general painting him gay,” said Zapata González, adding that the family would sue the artist and the National Institute of Fine Arts if they did not withdraw the work.
They made their protest in front of the museum in the center of Mexico City, some shouting insults against homosexuals, which generated a counter-demonstration of those who defend sexual diversity. There were clashes between both parties. Clashes between members of the LGBT community and Zapata supporters There were clashes between members of the LGBT community and Zapata supporters.
The term “Zapata” has become a trend on Twitter, with tens of thousands of users expressing both their support for diversity and objecting against painting. Protesters said they would block the entrance to the museum until the painting was removed. The work, by Fabián Cháirez, is entitled “The Revolution” and is part of an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Zapata’s death.
A Group of Protesters Occupies the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City
The exhibition includes 141 works of art from 70 collections. Although Fabián Cháirez’s painting is from 2014 and had already been exhibited on another occasion, he received more attention this time, when the Ministry of Culture used it to promote the exhibition through his Twitter and Facebook pages. Fabián Cháirez expressed that the idea for the painting came up when he noticed “glorified masculinity” in most Zapata representations.
“There are some people who are bothered by bodies that do not obey the rules. In this case, where is the offense? They see an offense because (Zapata) is feminized,” he said.
Luis Vargas, the curator of the exhibition, said that the painting was simply an artistic representation that generates debates on the issues of Mexican society, including homosexuality. Museum officials insist that the painting will not be removed, although protesters have threatened to return daily until their demand is met.
Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador asked to avoid violence and defended the freedom of expression of artists. After peasant organizations, they will enter the Palace of Fine Arts demanding that Emiliano’s work be removed. Zapata after Zapata, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked not to censor the works of Fabián Cháirez. He added that the manifestation of the National Union of Agricultural Workers (UNTA) “does not necessarily respond to the disagreement manifested by the Zapata family. They did so on their own decision,” and exempted the family of the leader from blame. AMLO has mentioned the possibility of reuniting these relatives with the author. Said the President, who has said that he will reunite Zapata’s relatives with the painter of said work so that they reach a peaceful agreement.
Artist Fabián Cháirez Painting
The Mexican Artist Who Challenges Sexist Culture Through His Paintings
It is estimated that seven women are murdered in Mexico each day. In 2011, 72 out of 100 women living in Mexico City were victims of some form of violence, be it by their partners or by someone else. 52.7% had suffered some form of sexual violence (harassment, abuse, threats), and 10% of all women ages 15 to 29 who died in Mexico in 2015 were murdered. Sexist culture or Machismo has a powerful influence in Mexican society. It has helped shape the notion of how the ideal man should be: tough, strong, masculine, violent. The consequences of this toxic understanding of masculinity has led to increasing statistics of violence against women. The problem has no simple solution, yet there are some Mexican artists who are fighting to alter the status quo through their work.
Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev - Soviet ballet Dancer and Choreographer
Fabián Cháirez is one of those artists. Born and raised in the southern state of Chiapas, Fabián attempts to redefine masculinity through his paintings.
By depicting men as feminine beings, the artist questions the toxic gender roles deeply ingrained in Mexican society and begs the viewer to challenge their legitimacy. His work functions both as a powerful commentary and as an invitation to free ourselves from gender limitations that are arbitrarily defined.
Fabián Cháirez - The Two Popes
He accomplishes this by portraying his characters standing or lying in sensual, homoerotic poses, with their luscious lips and seductive gazes directed towards the audience. These are not the tough machos commonly seen in Mexican art and advertisements. Instead they are tender, vulnerable men.
To drive his point even further, he surrounds his characters with popular images that have become synonymous of his country’s culture: wrestling masks, sombreros, agave plants. By including these elements, his models and their surroundings become undeniably Mexican, something that breaks with common conceptions of manhood.
The wrestling mask in particular works as a powerful symbol of Mexican masculinity. In an interview he made back in 2015, when a collection of his work was exhibited in Mexico City, the artist explained how he sees masculinity as a mask forced upon men from infancy.
This mask is a set of rules that tell how you should talk, stand, and walk, and they’re dictated by stereotypes of manhood ever present in popular culture and media. By portraying his men wearing a wrestling mask, Fabián speaks out against the power gender stereotypes have, in terms of hiding our true nature and therefore limit our life experiences.
The bright colors he uses play an important role in this dynamic as well. In the same interview, Fabián explained that he wanted his canvases to look like candy. The bright pinks, purples, and reds, present in a great deal of his work, have this effect. They immediately catch your attention, like bubble-gum wrappers on display at the supermarket, inviting you to take a bite.
Fabián Cháirez’s thrilling paintings may seem simple at first glance, but his homoerotic depictions of Mexican men work as powerful tools of transgression.
By forcing us to look closer at the ridiculous definitions of masculinity and femininity we arbitrarily define in societies, the Mexican artist asks us to start new dialogues that might lead to more inclusive communities, without the restrictive nature of gender roles.
Fabián attempts to redefine masculinity through his paintings. By depicting men as feminine beings, the artist questions the toxic gender roles deeply ingrained in Mexican society and begs the viewer to challenge their legitimacy.
The Mini-Series: "Zapata - Amor en Rebeldia (2004), presents the way real Mexicans want to remember the reluctant but unwavering hero of the Mexican Revolution. The magnificent Demian Bichir as Zapata seems to miraculously embody everything positive about the man with the inexplicable ease of someone born to the role. Bichir captured the man for all future generations in a way most actors would kill to be able to. Lorena Rojas, who passed away from breast cancer at the age of 44 in 2015 (In loving Memory), seems to be burn on screen with unusually affecting passion, and Carlos Torres Torija is more than believable as the cruelly ambitious pursuer of Zapata.
Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata Share the Presidential Chair at the
Palacio Nacional in Mexico City - December 6 1914
Along with Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata is one of the most important heroes in the history of Mexico. But according to a version of his life, he concealed who he was, fearing it would affect his work as a revolutionary. Was that just a sexual myth?
Pick the historical character you admire the most for the many changes they accomplished in their country. Now, think about what would have happened if, back in their day, they had come out as queer. Nowadays, this sounds like a stupid question, and the answer would be a simple “who cares, the important thing is what they achieved,” and to be honest I couldn’t agree more. However, things aren’t that simple, and throughout history we have cases where queerness was seen as a weakness to be concealed or as a tool to damage the image of important characters. Today’s story could be either way because it's one of those stories people talk about without no further evidence to show which way it is. The case of Emiliano Zapata’s alleged bisexuality has been around since his days. My great-grandfather (who fought with him in is Liberation Army) always claimed that everybody knew he liked sleeping with younger men, and just like him, many others have told the stories. But was this an open secret or just a myth?
Ignacio de la Torre y Emiliano Zapata
What’s interesting about the - let’s call it a rumor - is that it would shed more light towards on incredibly defining character in the history of Mexico. I mean, Zapata is considered by many to be the real hero of the Revolution, and the one who actually fought tirelessly for people's rights. So, imagine if this good-looking man who always wore his impeccable “charro” outfit and his iconic mustache, always surrounded by dozens of women, were confirmed to be bisexual? Would it change how we’ve always seen him and how we learn about him in school? If he was not, then how did the rumor survive all this time? But before we jump into conclusions, let’s see who Zapata was and how his story goes.
Cuernavaca, Capital City of the State of Morelos in Mexico
Born in 1879, in a small town in Morelos, Mexico, Emiliano Zapata had always been a man of the people. Of Spanish and Nahuatl descent, his family had lived in Anenecuilco for generations and generations, and they were a really well-known family in the town. Ever since he was a little boy, he worked in the fields and got to see the injustices and abuse people endured every day and vowed to change their working conditions no matter what. So, when he was barely thirty years old, he chose to be council president of his town, and in 1910, when Francisco I. Madero organized the coup that ended the Díaz dictatorship, he was one of the central figures in the South to support Madero’s movement.
The People of the Mexican Revolution (Roughly from 1910 to 1920) Transformed Mexican Culture and Government
Along with Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco, Zapata secured the defeat of Porfirio Díaz’s troops. However, as soon as Madero became president and started appointing his people to important government offices, mainly the new governor of Morelos, Zapata realized that their intentions weren’t really the same because his cause for implementing a land reform was pretty much left out of the new political agenda. Dissatisfied with Madero, he decided to start his own revolution under the motto “land and liberty,” and soon, his army started fighting for the reforms he proposed, even if this meant going against the whole idea of Madero’s revolution. For years, power was passed from hand to hand in an environment of treason, changing of sides, and assassination, but Zapata was definitely one of the few who was always firm with his ideas and purposes; his zest was what made him such a beloved leader and also a fearsome character in the country.
Zapata was considered to be a faithful representation of the Mexican macho stereotype. He wasn’t only a man with strong ideals willing to die for what he believed in, but he was also physically strong, which added to the characterization of his persona. He would be seen surrounded by dozens of women, and not only that, he was publicly against homosexuality and even lashed and killed “effeminates” as he called them. But according to some contemporary accounts, this was more of a façade to conceal who he really was: unofficially, he was a bisexual man who pretended to be a macho man only to hide what he believed would be as a weak trait in his persona and thus make him fail in his revolutionary attempts. If not, then this also speaks about what kind of man he was and still doesn’t help his image a lot, especially today.
One of the first stories related to the subject dates back some years before the revolution, when he was spotted by Díaz’s son-in-law. As the story goes, Ignacio de la Torre, who had had a brush with the law after being arrested at a gay party, wasn’t only surprised by Zapata’s skills with horses, but he also felt automatically attracted to the young man. It’s said that in de la Torre’s wife’s diary (Amada Díaz) she blamed the young groom for her husband’s lack of attention and abuse, claiming that he was, in fact, more into the servant than into any other woman he knew. Apart from that, there’s allegedly an episode in the diary in which she describes a day she caught the two men in the hacienda's barn.
The Female Soldiers "Las Soldaderas" of the Mexican Revolution
There’s another story that says that, in 2010, as part of the hundred-year anniversary of the Revolution, an old soldadera who still lived back there claimed that Zapata “was such a man that he lay with other men.” Of course, this isn’t definitive evidence, but of course, it isn’t the only one.
Emiliano Zapata (center) with the Secretary of Agriculture Manuel Palafox which was Known as Open Homosexual
Another story that is widely told about the subject is the relationship he had with Manuel Palafox, the former Secretary of Agriculture. Palafox was openly gay, and he almost got killed by Zapata after he discovered him having sex with a younger man. However, he somehow managed to impress the revolutionary and was eventually appointed as his personal secretary. People were shocked at how much Zapata trusted him knowing how much he hated homosexuality. It made many people have doubts about his macho image.
There isn’t that much information to draw any conclusions because all of these stories and myths live in books written mainly by novelists (even when these aren’t novels per se). If you ask me, I’ve heard this story all my life and I wouldn’t dare to give an answer as to whether it’s true or not. If he was really bisexual, he wasn’t going to say it and risk his image of the strong, macho revolutionary who led an army. The point is that either way it doesn’t really change his important work fighting for the injustice and abuse perpetrated for hundreds of years in Mexico.
Every day, stories of iconic characters with a particular sexual identity come out, and we love reading them because they prove that diversity is a reality that has existed all this time and that it isn’t a flaw, as we’ve been told to believe for millennia. But hopefully, a day will come when pointing out someone's sexual identity and orientation won’t be necessary to define these characters and people in general. Zapata’s case, even when we have to consider it a myth, can be great to understand how prejudice in general can be really harmful, but also to see that strength in ideals and will to change things shouldn’t be concealed to make them possible. After all, he’s one of the greatest heroes of Mexico's history and will always be seen that way regardless of his orientation.