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Zapata lookalikes at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday. Zapata lookalikes at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday.

LGBTI community joins artist for demonstration over Zapata painting

Protesters also denounced the government's withdrawal of publicity using the controversial artwork

Revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata appeared in drag Friday when members of the LGBTI community gathered at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts to show support for artist Fabián Cháirez and denounce violence against the community.

Cháirez’s painting La Revolución, which depicts a feminized Zapata, has sparked controversy since it was used as publicity for an exhibition at the arts center earlier this month.

But even more controversy has followed an agreement by the federal government with Zapata’s descendants to install a plaque alongside the painting to explain their dismay with it. The Secretary of Culture also agreed to withdraw the publicity that used the painting, in which Zapata is shown nude, wearing a pink sombrero and high heels and riding a horse with an erection.

Donning sombreros, makeup, fishnet stockings, women’s shoes, rainbow flags and false, Zapata-style mustaches, protesters expressed support for freedom of expression and spoke against hate crimes against the LGBTI community.

“I would rather die in ladies’ shoes than live on my knees!” and “If Zapata were alive, he would be with us!” were among their slogans.

Gay Zapatas kiss in protest in Mexico City.
Gay Zapatas kiss in protest in Mexico City.

A banner revealed there were over 1,500 hate crimes against the LGBTI community from 1995 to 2018.

Cháirez himself attended the protest and spoke to the crowd of around 300 people, denouncing the government’s decision to stop using his painting for publicity and to place the plaque alongside it.

“People who have expressed rejection and have made homophobic, macho and misogynistic statements do not deserve a space in a building like the Palace of Fine Arts. It will be worrying to share the space with such a statement,” he said.

He said he could empathize with the family of the “Strongman of the South,” despite disagreeing with their attempted censure of his work.

“I understand the anger of some because of an image that does not correspond to their expectations. I have felt rage when others have tried to impose an idea on me that does not fit with my way of thinking. This is something that many of us face every day, which is why with my painting I search for other possibilities of existing, of seeing and of interpreting reality.”

The curator of the exhibition, entitled Zapata Después de Zapata (Zapata After Zapata), also expressed his disapproval of the concessions made to the revolutionary’s descendants.

The offending publicity for the show has been withdrawn.
The offending publicity for the show has been withdrawn.

“It’s a shame that the Secretariat of Culture signed the agreement with the Zapata family,” said Luis Vargas Santiago. “I do not agree. It is an attack on my curating and against the work of Fabián Cháirez, and sets a precedent that invalidates freedom,” he said.

A protest by around 200 farmers at the Palace of Fine Arts on Tuesday turned violent when they attacked members of the LGBTI community who had gathered to show their support for the painting and freedom of expression.

A representative of the Network of Civil Society Organizations, David Contreras, spoke at Friday’s protest, proclaiming that the actions of the farmers on Tuesday do not represent the opinions of all farmworkers.

“In the fields there are men and women . . . who fight, that’s why we’re here. We can’t abandon our sexually diverse companions. We’re going to keep fighting with you hand in hand . . . Zapata lives! The fight continues!” he said.

Sources: Milenio (sp), El Universal (sp)

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