Aztec art was at the center of the Aztec empire during the 15th and 16th century. The imagery is an insightful view of what life was like back then, and it still holds so much information that continues to fascinate scholars.
While the art form is centuries old, it’s still very relevant to our culture, our history, and traditions, which is why a Latino artist is giving it a new life.
Artist Emmanuel Valtierra has launched a series of Aztec-style imagery that features some of today’s pop culture icons.
According to his website, Valtierra, was born in San Antonio, Texas and raised in Monterrey, México. He studied Graphic Design at the University of Nuevo Leon and Photography at San Antonio College.
Valtierra said he is using current references to introduce people to the historic art form.
“Many people outside Mexico didn’t even know it existed,” Valtierra told Remezcla. “I wanted to introduce art little by little to a new public, and there was no better way than to do it with images they will recognize easily, like video games, movies, and cartoons.”
Some of the pop culture references include Game Of Thrones, Day of the Dead, the Avengers, and Pokemon.
“The love Valtierra has for history has influenced him on all his projects,” his website states. “The goal is to keep teaching new generations about our past in a fun way in every media possible. In the future, Valtierra is planning to release more books, direct more videos, and work on more games for his public and followers.”
If you’re interested in his work, Valtierra also has some items for purchase.
The item above is an illustrated book ($38) in which, as Valtierra states, “recounts the events of the war that the Aztecs had against the Spaniards. Now imagine a world where the Aztecs had defeated the Spaniards. How would our world be different?”
Click here to purchase, or here to learn more about him and his artwork.
It is no secret that Mexican society is often affected by displays of homophobia. Even though there have been great advances such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, the largely Catholic country is home of opinion leaders who are conservative and whose masculinity seems to be constantly threatened by anything that doesn’t spell out “straight.”
Added to this, Mexican political discourse is anchored in a solemn approach to institutions and the myths of the wars of Independence and Revolution, the two historical moments that have defined Mexican political life and foundational narratives for the past 200 years. So a recent painting hosted at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, perhaps the most iconic building dedicated to the arts in the Latin American country, made conservatives poner el grito en el cielo, as it dares to reimagine one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders as a queer character.
For many, Zapata is akin to a deity and the image of heroic masculinity. The painting is, however, incendiary for exactly that reason, because it challenges notions of sex and gender in a day and age were some parts of Mexico are progressive while others remain under the dark clouds of discrimination and segregation of LGBTQ communities.
So this is the 2014 painting “The Revolution” by Fabian Chairez.
The painting depicts a male figure who resembles the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, a cornerstone of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. Zapata was beloved by indigenous populations and gente de campo who believed that other revolutionaries were forgetting the most marginalised sectors of society.
But there is a twist: here, Zapata is naked, wearing heels and being totally gender-non-conforming as he rides a voluptuous horse. Chairez told Reuters: “I use these elements like the sombrero and horse and create a proposal that shows other realities, other ways of representing masculinity.”
Definitely not your usual depiction of the times, but surely a piece that is confronting in the best possible way. The painting was chosen as part of an exhibition on the revolutionary hero, but things got nasty.
Zapata’s grandchildren have spoken out against the painting in the most homophic way, and things got bloody.
Zapata’s family demanded that the painting be taken off the exhibition because it allegedly “tainted” the public image of their grandfather. Let’s take a minute here and think about this: it is actually the worst possible kind of homophobia, as it implies that being queer is wrong and that it would be a blemish on Zapata’s legacy.
There were protests inside Bellas Artes and university students defending the work and freedom of expression actually got into a fistfight with farmers who stormed Bellas Artes chanting homophobic slurs and threatening to burn the painting in a gross display of toxic masculinity and an Inquisitorial outlook on life and art.
As reported by CE Noticias Financieras, Federico Ovalle, leader of the Independent Central Of Agricultural and Peasant Workers, said: “The picture denigrates the personality and trajectory of the general and it seems to us that presenting this figure is grotesque, of contempt and contempt of the peasants of the country.”
Luis Vargas Santiago, curator of the exhibit ‘Emiliano Zapata after Zapata’, told Reuters: “Of course it’s fine if they don’t like the painting, they can criticize the exhibition, but to seek to censor freedom of expression, that’s different.”
The painting can stay, but it is being censored anyway.
As reported by Agence France Presse, the authorities decided that the painting can stay, but with a caveat: “But the Mexican Revolutionary hero’s family will be allowed to place a text beside it stating their strong objections to the work, which shows Zapata draped suggestively over a white horse with a giant erection.”
And the image will also be sort of hidden from public view (which, to be honest, might only increase the influx of visitors to the exhibition).
As AFP continues: “Under the deal, brokered by the Mexican culture ministry, the painting by artist Fabian Chairez will also be removed from promotional materials for the exhibition, “Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata,” which opened last month at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.”
Even Mexican president AMLO, who has declared his admiration for the revolutionary hero, got involved, ordering his culture minister to get involved.
So was Emiliano Zapata a queer revolutionary hero? Perhaps, but that is not the point!
For years, historians have tried to get a glimpse into the man who was Emiliano Zapata. Some claim that his overt displays of macho masculinity were perhaps a way to silence any rumors regarding his sexuality. But the point is that it does not matter, or it should not matter, for any other reason that historical accuracy. And it isn’t anyone’s business, is it?
La Revolución by Chiapas artist Fabian Cháirez depicts Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata riding a white horse. Zapata has his eyes closed as if he was lost in reverie, he’s totally nude, wearing high heels, and a shimmering pink hat — and the horse has a massive erection.
The painting isn’t new, it is one of 141 works included in the exhibit Zapata Después de Zapata to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the revolutionary’s death. When the Mexican Secretariat of Culture shared the image on Facebook, many users had a polarizing response. Cháirez believes the negative responses are rooted in sexist and homophobic attitudes.
Zapata’s grandson says he is taking legal action against the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature.
“We are not going to allow that. That’s why they’re going to take legal action”. Zapata´s grandson said in a statement. “We came here to exhibit the nonsense they did… to exhibit a photograph of our general (Emiliano Zapata) in Bellas Artes”
One would think the issue a critic would have with the image is that there might be an implication of bestiality. No, according to Zapata’s grandson, Jorge Zapata who held a press conference in Cuernavaca says the problem is that Cháirez painted him as “gay.”
“What could we call him? An unknown painter, who I think wants fame… he portrays general Zapata as, gay. So I believe that as a family, as a people, where we are clearly Zapatistas, we are not going to allow that,” Jorge said according to the Yucatan Times.
Does Jorge think being gay means two men love each other or that a man and a horse love each other? Jorge appears to be more repulsed by the thought of his grandfather possibly liking another man, more so than him being attracted to a horse.
“Now we’ve done what’s right, we are going to sue them, and we´ll have demonstrations and hold press conferences. We are going to sue both the painter and the person in charge of Bellas Artes.” Jorge said at the conference.
Art is subjective and isn’t always meant to be literally interpreted, Cháirez appears to be trying to evoke a feeling and a response from the viewer about what the image might mean rather than creating something intended to be taken at face value.
Many people on social media were also offended by the painting.
“I truly think that the image is offensive for the Mexican leader and hero. I’m not at all against homosexuality . . . but Zapata deserves respect. He was a leader who fought for land rights and freedom. I will never accept the denigration of his image in this way,” Jonathan Gómez Rios wrote on Facebook.
However, others defended Cháirez’s painting, commending the artist for being able to stir controversy as it was clearly intended.
“I love that a simple painting causes so much controversy. People argue and seethe because of a painting, A PAINTING! Well done to the Secretariat of Culture and whoever’s behind this post. Congratulations!” said another user on Facebook.
Cháirez speaks out in defense of his work of art.
“The feminine [form of Zapata] is what causes contempt . . . We’re in a super sexist society. There are some people who are bothered by bodies that don’t obey the norms. [But] in this case, where’s the offense? Are they offended because he’s feminized?” he told El Universal.
Cháirez says portraits of Zapata usually glorify his masculinity, while his own works intend to do just the opposite. According to the Yucatan Times, the Chiapas painter is part of the Neomexicanism movement and his works typically portray bodies in ways that challenge traditional stereotypes about masculinity and social mores about sexual orientation.
“His piece, ‘The Revolution’ questions the macho stereotypes that make up the national identity and makes visible the movements of sexual diversity,” the Yucatan Times writes. “The image has caused great offense among those who defend the memory of General Emiliano Zapata the ‘Caudillo del Sur’ and reject the idea of portraying him as a homosexual.”
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