“We have created a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression in this country. What the president did was give credit to one interpretation over all others.”
These are words from UT Austin alumnus, former CLAVIS member and curator Luis Vargas Santiago (Ph.D. in Art History, 2015) after the Mexican government, in response to ongoing protests and counter-protests surrounding a painting by artist Fabián Cháirez depicting Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, arranged for a label to be placed alongside the painting that expresses the disapproval of Zapata's descendants. Weeks earlier, the exhibition was listed by the LA Times as one of the "The most unforgettable cultural events of 2019" in art critic Carolina A. Miranda's year-end review.
Numerous arts and preeminent news organizations, including the BBC, Artforum, NPR, ArtNews, Artnet, and Hyperallergic; have covered the public reception to the exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Zapata’s death curated by Vargas-Santiago and titled Emiliano. Zapata Después Zapata (Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata) at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. The exhibition, on view from November 27, 2019 - February 16, 2020; includes a total of 141 works that chronicle Zapata's life as well as the political and social use of his image.
The painting that has sparked the most controversy, La Revolución, is described by ArtNews as, "depict[ing] the vaunted war hero and symbol of machismo as a queer pinup model wearing a pink sombrero and heels while riding a horse with an erect penis." Initial protests outside the museum included Zapata’s grandson Jorge Zapata Gonzalez, other descendants and farmers' union members.
Artforum reportedof Vargas-Santiago's response to the protests: "[Vargas] posed what he considers the central question of the show: “Who does Zapata belong to? Does he belong to his family members? Does he belong to the government? Or does he belong to everyone? Our response is: he belongs to everyone who identifies with his legacy.”