How can you change the perception about what it means to be a man? Mexican artist Fabián Cháirez created a gay version of Emiliano Zapata, which recently was in the middle of a controversy.
It is estimated that seven women are murdered in Mexico each day. In 2011, 72 out of 100 women living in Mexico City were victims of some form of violence, be it by their partners or by someone else. 52.7% had suffered some form of sexual violence (harassment, abuse, threats), and 10% of all women ages 15 to 29 who died in Mexico in 2015 were murdered. Sexist culture or Machismo has a powerful influence in Mexican society. It has helped shape the notion of how the ideal man should be: tough, strong, masculine, violent. The consequences of this toxic understanding of masculinity has led to increasing statistics of violence against women. The problem has no simple solution, yet there are some Mexican artists who are fighting to alter the status quo through their work.
Fabián Cháirez is one of those artists. Born and raised in the southern state of Chiapas, Fabián attempts to redefine masculinity through his paintings. By depicting men as feminine beings, the artist questions the toxic gender roles deeply ingrained in Mexican society and begs the viewer to challenge their legitimacy. His work functions both as a powerful commentary and as an invitation to free ourselves from gender limitations that are arbitrarily defined.
He accomplishes this by portraying his characters standing or lying in sensual, homoerotic poses, with their luscious lips and seductive gazes directed towards the audience. These are not the tough machos commonly seen in Mexican art and advertisements. Instead they are tender, vulnerable men. To drive his point even further, he surrounds his characters with popular images that have become synonymous of his country’s culture: wrestling masks, sombreros, agave plants. By including these elements, his models and their surroundings become undeniably Mexican, something that breaks with common conceptions of manhood.
The wrestling mask in particular works as a powerful symbol of Mexican masculinity. In an interview he made back in 2015, when a collection of his work was exhibited in Mexico City, the artist explained how he sees masculinity as a mask forced upon men from infancy. This mask is a set of rules that tell how you should talk, stand, and walk, and they’re dictated by stereotypes of manhood ever present in popular culture and media. By portraying his men wearing a wrestling mask, Fabián speaks out against the power gender stereotypes have, in terms of hiding our true nature and therefore limit our life experiences.
The bright colors he uses play an important role in this dynamic as well. In the same interview, Fabián explained that he wanted his canvases to look like candy. The bright pinks, purples, and reds, present in a great deal of his work, have this effect. They immediately catch your attention, like bubble-gum wrappers on display at the supermarket, inviting you to take a bite.
Fabián Cháirez’s thrilling paintings may seem simple at first glance, but his homoerotic depictions of Mexican men work as powerful tools of transgression. By forcing us to look closer at the ridiculous definitions of masculinity and femininity we arbitrarily define in societies, the Mexican artist asks us to start new dialogues that might lead to more inclusive communities, without the restrictive nature of gender roles.