Building heroes and heroines is common to all modern nations. Yet, destroying their monuments, replacing them with new figures and intervening their history with new interpretations is also becoming commonplace in our world. If a statue was erected to honor them for liberating the homeland, now that same statue may be destroyed because it is also a monument to a slaver, a racist or a misogynist. Within this heroic universe that we increasingly question, there is a hero who has not been destroyed. Instead he has been appropriated, intervened, updated and even queer. He is the emblematic Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), a campesino hero of piercing stare, full mustache, and distinctive charro suit that has become an icon of the Mexican Revolution and social justice. Zapata fought for the poorest to give them land and freedom for their rural communities. Zapata was assassinated more than 100 years ago but his legacy remains more alive than ever.
This exhibition surveys the revolutionary’s imprint on modern culture through painting, prints, sculpture, photography, and video installations. It includes the most fascinating and controversial representations of this Mexican Robin Hood, whom, even before Che Guevara, was inspirational to artists like Diego Rivera and María Izquierdo or writers like John Steinbeck or Octavio Paz. As such he is represented in several instances ranging from Hollywood cinema (Marlon Brando performing as Zapata; or Speedy Gonzales) to the student movements of 1968, the guerrillas of the 1970s, and more recently the struggles of LGBTQ + rights, feminism and environmental, indigenous, decolonial movements.
The strength off this exhibition lays on the possibility of using art history, principles of freedom and social justice and the versatile and inspiring figure of Zapata to, on the one hand, question other heroes and national myths, and on the other, rethink our global societies and ways of relating to each other.