Feminized Heroes

Images of historic persons have been depicted recently in novel ways by artists in Mexico and in Canada. Both cases have a gender-fluid slant; the contrast in public reaction in each country is notable.


The work is part of an exhibit about Zapata in one of Mexico City’s premiere arts venues, the Fine Arts Palace. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP.

Emiliano Zapata, betrayed and killed in 1919, was a hero of the Mexican Revolution, an advocate for landless peasants. Artist Fabián Cháirez depicts a naked Zapata astride a white horse, wearing high heels “while his lips pout beneath his distinctive curved moustache.” His sombrero is pink.

This isn’t freedom of expression, it is debauchery! It’s degrading. They can’t exhibit our history that way,” fumed Antonio Medrano, a spokesman for the protesters. “They can’t permit this kind of mockery.”

“… We are not going to allow this,” said Jorge Zapata Gonzalez. “For us as relatives, this denigrates the figure of our general – depicting him as gay.”
(David Agren, “Nude portrait of Emiliano Zapata in high heels sparks fury in Mexico,” theguardian.com, 12-11-19)

Fabián Cháirez said he had the idea for the painting after noticing that in most representations “Zapata’s masculinity is glorified. There are some people who experience discomfort from bodies that don’t obey the rules. In this case, where is the offence? They [the protesters] see an offence because Zapata is feminised,” he said.
(“Protesters storm museum over naked Zapata painting, http://www.bbc.co.uk, 12-11-19)

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibits without incident the paintings of Canadian artist Kent Monkman, 54, “one of Canada’s best-known contemporary artists.” Monkman is of mixed Cree and Irish heritage.


In Mr. Monkman’s paintings, Indigenous people are mostly proactive figures shaping the world around them. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in heels, provides a rescuing hand in “Welcoming the Newcomers.” His sources include Courbet and Titian. Credit…Kent Monkman.

His paintings, done in a crisply realistic, highly detailed, somewhat cut-and-paste illustrational style, are far from grim. In many of them, humor and erotic, usually homoerotic, fantasy have an important role. So does the image of the artist himself in the guise of his alter ego, a buff, cross-dressing, gender-fluid tribal leader named Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.
(Holland Carter, “A Cree Artist Redraws HIstory,” NYTimes, 12-19-19)

It’s hard not to see some fun being had in the work of both painters, and to share in it.

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to Feminized Heroes

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    I’ve seen worse.


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