Erotic Art at the Intersection of Queer and Chicanx Identities
August 31, 2017
Rurru Mipanochia’s phantasmagorical and erotic paintings set the tone for Queerly Tèhuäntin | Cuir Us, an exhibition at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco that explores the intersection of queer and Chicanx and Mexican identities. Mipanochia’s work resembles Aztec codices, books, sheets of amate (bark paper), or deerskin hides with expansive and colorful drawings detailing Aztec history and cosmology. But Mipanochia, who describes themself as “a cyborg built on another planet … and reborn in Mexico City,” radically re-imagines these texts to queer deities and their origin stories.
In Mipanochia’s amate paintings, masked figures wearing fishnet stockings lounge in the nude, pleasuring themselves and dripping with all manner of bodily fluids. Tlaltecuhtli is a deity, often referred to with both female and male descriptors, whose dismemberment by the male gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca resulted in the creation of the world. In one painting, Mipanochia unambiguously renders the deity with both female and male genitalia. As Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, in the form of sinister serpents, encircle Tlaltecuhtli, the deity casually plays with their own breasts as if unconcerned by the approaching menace. This is either a more triumphant revision of the earth’s genesis or an homage to Tlaltecuhtli’s sacrifice.
Felix D’Eon’s work is also grounded in traditional illustration practices, employing early-20th-century graphic styles to imagine queer love in revolutionary-era Mexico. “Amor Revolucionario” (c. 2016) is presented as the torn cover of a book from 1910, showing two male revolutionaries in wide-brimmed hats and bandoliers kissing each other while an armed female revolutionary looks on. In a faux magazine cover, “La Tonalteca” (c. 2016), two women, one nude and the othering wearing a long floral dress, embrace in an open desert landscape. A town is visible in the distance, but, like the two revolutionaries, the women seem unconcerned about being seen. Regardless of D’Eon’s use of century-old styles to depict heroic queer love, the illustrations don’t emit a sense of irony or pastiche, nor do they appear to be attempts to shock. Instead, they exhibit a sincere interest in graphic traditions and a desire to depict a history that always existed, whether it was widely represented or not.
“The Formaldehyde Trip” (2017) is a series of musical videos by Naomi Rincón Gallardo depicting a fictionalized account of murdered Mixtec activist Bety Cariño’s journey to the underworld. These videos invent a feminist cosmology that draws inspiration from diverse places, including Indigenous religion, riot grrrl aesthetics, and campy television. One of the videos, “Mud,” resembles an episode of Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno or Lost in Space shot in the underground den of queer Mesoamerican punk gods. In the videos, chants like “oppressed but not defeated” provide a subtext with which one can read most of the works in Queerly Tèhuäntin | Cuir Us.
While Mipanochia, D’Eon, and Gallardo are in their 20s and 30s, Queerly Tèhuäntin | Cuir Us also explores the relationship between the younger generation and more established artists who have been addressing similar concerns for decades.
Ester Hernández is a prominent Chicana artist who has been active in the Bay Area since the early 1970s. On view is one of her best-known screenprints, “La Ofrenda” (1990), which depicts a woman with a large back tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The sides of her head are shaved, and she’s wearing earrings and bright lipstick. The hand of, presumably, another woman stretches out toward the Virgin with a rose as an ofrenda (offering), indicating devotion to the tattooed woman rather than, or in addition to, the Virgin. But Hernández does not repudiate the religious icon, instead identifying it as a constituent part of the woman’s identity. This inked Chicana punk is a predecessor of sorts to Gallardo’s underworld denizens.
Though love and defiance proliferate in the exhibition, Nahum B. Zenil focuses on pain and sacrifice. He incorporates self-portraits in fantastical and sometimes macabre paintings, which have garnered him frequent comparisons to Frida Kahlo. His silkscreen “A San Sebastian” (n.d.) features a man who has been stripped, tied up, and shot with eight arrows. The man’s head is out of the frame, but his feet rest on a head that sports Zenil’s own distinctive wavy bangs. Given the allegorical and autobiographical nature of the artist’s oeuvre, this work draws comparisons between Zenil’s life and the famous Christian martyr for whom the work is named. This complements Gabriel García Román’s “Queer Icons” (2011–present), a series of photogravure portraits in the style of Christian icon paintings.
The appropriation of traditional imagery is often discussed in terms of negations or deconstructions, but I don’t see the works in Queerly Tèhuäntin | Cuir Us as iconoclastic. Rather than serving as destructive images, these pieces are affirmations and constructions. Tèhuäntin means “us” in Nahuatl, and the works on display here are self-reflexive and forward-thinking representations of a community.