Sunday, January 12, 2020

Zapata After Zapata

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata, one of the greatest heroes of the Mexican Revolution.  Under the banner of "Land and Liberty", the charismatic leader led his army of "Zapatistas" across southern Mexico fighting for agrarian reform, the break-up of the large "haciendas" and the distribution of land to the peasants.

On Friday I went downtown to the Palace of Fine Arts to see a special exhibit on the revolutionary hero.

The show is called "Emiliano Zapata después de Zapata" (Emiliano Zapata After Zapata).  It opened last November and will run until next month.

The exhibit begins with a case containing some of Zapata's personal belongings, including his "sombrero" and his pistol.

A number of photographs are displayed and historic films are projected.  The Mexican Revolution was the first war to be filmed.

Zapata and Pancho Villa lead their armies into Mexico City.

At the time of the Revolution upper class Mexicans viewed Zapata as a bloodthirsty bandit leading a bunch of "inferior Indians".   Some caricatures from newspapers and magazines of the era portray Zapata in an unflattering manner.

"The Attila of the South"

In April of 1919 his enemies finally succeeded in assassinating Zapata.

Photo of the cadaver of Zapata

The assassins succeeded in making Zapata a martyr and a hero of mythic proportions much greater than he was in life.  That is the thrust of much of the exhibit... the heroic figure portrayed in art after his death. 

Included are many paintings by the great names of 20th century Mexican art.

"Zapata - Agrarian Leader" by Diego Rivera
A study for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1931
The subject was later used in a mural in the government palace in Cuernavaca.

"Zapatistas" by José Clemente Orozco

"Emiliano Zapata" by Miguel Covarrubias 

A study by David Alfaro Siqueiros for a mural in Chapultepec Castle

This portrait of Zapata is by an artist I had never heard of before.  
Arnold Belkin was a Canadian-born painter who was inspired by the Mexican muralists, and who spent most of his life in Mexico.

There were also a few paintings that dealt with the controversial topic of Zapata's sexuality.  Before the Revolution, Zapata worked as a horse trainer for Ignacio de la Torre, the son-in-law of President Porfirio Díaz.  De la Torre was known to be homosexual, and the rumor started that he and Zapata were lovers for a time.  One painting in the exhibit which has generated considerable anger shows an effeminate Zapata wearing high heels and naked on horseback.

Another painting, by Mexican artist Miguel Cano, shows Zapata enthroned like a god, with his rumored lover De la Torre kneeling naked in adoration before him.

The painting not only deals with the topic of homosexual desire but also depicts (quoting the exhibit's description of the painting) "the submission of the white man before the mestizo, an inversion of the established social order" of that era.

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