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Fabián Cháirez, La Revolución, 2014.

Nude Portrait of Emiliano Zapata Sparks Protest in Mexico City

The Mexican painter Fabián Cháirez’s portrait of the Mexican revolutionist Emiliano Zapata astride a visibly aroused white horse, clad in nothing but a pink sombrero and a pair of high heels, has ignited protests outside of Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes, where demonstrators are pressuring the cultural center to remove the painting, reports the BBC.

The work, titled La Revolución, 2014, currently hangs in the exhibition “Emiliano. Zapata Después Zapata” (Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata), which celebrates the centenary of the revolutionary activist’s death. The show is meant to serve as a key event of what Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared the year of Zapata—who, in addition to leading the 1910 charge to overthrow dictator Porfirio Díaz, also fought for land reform and collectivizing agricultural production.

Demanding the government respect one of the nation’s “great icons,” some two hundred protesters, including Zapata’s grandson Jorge Zapata Gonzalez, shouted, “Burn it, burn it,” at an action outside of the museum on Tuesday. “We are not going to allow this,” said Gonzalez. “For us as relatives, this denigrates the figure of our general [Zapata], depicting him as gay.”

Antonio Medrano, a spokesman for the protesters, added: “This isn’t freedom of expression, it is debauchery. It is degrading. They can’t exhibit our history that way.” The group, which included many farmers and farmworkers’ union members, also shouted homophobic slurs, prompting about a dozen counter-protestors to gather in defense of sexual diversity. In response, government spokesperson Jesús Ramírez Cuevas tweeted that the government was “committed to artistic freedom and respect for diversity.”

Luis Vargas-Santiago, the curator of the exhibition, 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.”

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