Protesters Storm a Mexico Museum Over a Painting That Depicts Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata Nude (and Wearing a Pink Sombrero)

Zapata's family members have threatened to sue the artist and the museum.

Fabian Chairez at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes with his controversial painting La Revolución, depicting famed Mexican revolutionary Emilio Zapata. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Protesters stormed Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts demanding the removal of a controversial painting on Tuesday. Painter Fabián Cháirez depicted the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata on horseback, looking decidedly less macho than usual: naked, save for a pink sombrero and high heels, and mounting a very, shall we say, excited horse.

The work, titled La Revolución (2014), is part of the exhibition “Emiliano. Zapata Después Zapata” (“Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata”), curated by Luis Vargas to commemorate the centenary of Zapata’s death.

A leading figure of the nation’s 1910 revolution that overthrew dictator Porfirio Díaz, Zapata was assassinated at just 39 years old. His perceived martyrdom has made him one of the most revered figures in Mexican history, and the Palace of Fine Arts show is one of numerous events marking 2019 as the year of Zapata, as designated by Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Cháirez wanted the work, which was featured prominently on a poster promoting the exhibition, to stand in contrast to other depictions of the Mexican farmer-turned-revolutionary, in which “Zapata’s masculinity is glorified,” he told the BBC.

Fabián Cháirez, La Revolución (2014). The work has caused a controversy in Mexico over the non-masculine appearance of revolutionary hero Emilio Zapata. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Fabián Cháirez, La Revolución (2014). Photo courtesy of the artist.

The work is a problem for Zapata’s grandson, Jorge Zapata Gonzalez, who has threatened to sue both the museum and the artist over the painting, reports the Associated Press.

“We are not going to allow this,” he told the Guardian. “For us as relatives, this denigrates the figure of our general—depicting him as gay.”

Zapata Gonzalez’s disapproval was echoed by the 200 protesters who gathered outside the museum demanding the work’s removal—or destruction—sometimes accompanied by homophobic slurs. A group of counter-protesters also appeared, voicing their support for sexual diversity. It ultimately led to a physical confrontation between the two sides, with local news outlet El Universal reporting that one of its reporters were among those who were attacked.

Fabian Chairez with a limited edition print of his controversial painting La Revolución, depicting famed Mexican revolutionary Emilio Zapata. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Fabian Cháirez with a limited-edition print of his painting La Revolución, depicting famed Mexican revolutionary Emilio Zapata. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The museum is standing by its decision to exhibit the work and has promised to keep it on display despite the protesters’ threats to return on a daily basis. It did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Welcome to the world of political and aesthetic debate and discrepancy,” read a joint statement from Mexico’s culture ministry and the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature, as quoted by the Telegraph. The painting “raised the level of debate about what constitutes femininity and masculinity.”

“If you use the feminine, race, or social class as an insult, you are part of the problem,” Cháirez added on Twitter. An event held in the artist’s honor and to support the LGTBQ community has been organized for December 13, to be held on the esplanade outside of the museum. 

Emiliano. Zapata Después Zapata” is on view at the Palacio de Bellas Arts, Avenue Hidalgo No. 1 Col. Centro, Alcadía, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, Mexico, November 27, 2019–February 16, 2020.

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