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Latin American Art  
 
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Many Latin Americans consider homosexual behavior to be deviant and, therefore, harass and attempt to oppress the gay community. Consequently, gay and lesbian Latin American artists frequently use their artworks to portray their desire for sexual and political liberation. Often they combine traditional subject matter with personal insights to stress their desire for acceptance by their communities.

Another crucial context in which homosexual art must be placed is that of Latin American machismo. The polarized gender differentiation that prevails in many Latin American societies has contributed to the oppression of homosexuals and limited their expression in the arts.

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Given a social climate that is intolerant of homosexual expression, it is not surprising that interpreting homosexuality in Latin American art is problematic. More often than not, sexuality in Latin American art is presented covertly rather than overtly. As James Saslow has observed, from Mexico to Argentina, "Visible expression of homosexuality is handicapped by social attitudes."

Thus, artists wishing to give expression to homosexual themes are obliged to be more constrained than their European and North American counterparts.

Rudi Bleys approaches Latin American art via "homotextuality," which implies the necessity of "reading" art works according to their sociopolitical contexts. This approach, he says, "allows for cross cultural comparison without falling into the trap of Eurocentric conceptualization." It allows consideration of the work of artists who did not identify as homosexuals, but whose work nevertheless somehow conveys .

Mexican Artists

Mexico's rich traditions of folk culture, arts and crafts, and its sometimes tragic history, have yielded a fascinating legacy on which modern art has built. Significantly, the attempt to capture a national identity in murals and other art forms, often depicting indigenous peoples, has sometimes resulted in more than a tinge of homoeroticism.

The works of Alberto Fuster (1870-1922), Angél Zárraga (1886-1946), Saturnino Herrán (1887-1918), and José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), for example, all indicate a subtle appreciation of ambiguous sexuality in their human figures. Orozco's male nudes, never entirely free from erotic overtones, even became the symbols of national identity and of the trend towards indigenisimo--the use of authentic local culture.

Frida Kahlo

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) has achieved iconic status for feminists. While the great love of her life was artist Diego Rivera, whom she married in 1929, she also had affairs with other men and women. Her paintings, mostly visually startling, quasi-surrealist self-portraits, employ the iconography of ancient Mesoamerican cultures.

This she combined with idiosyncratic personal symbols to depict her intense suffering and to comment on the representation of women. She often depicts herself in masculine dress, using "butch drag" to suggest her independence and strength. Her hypnotic gaze has come to embody a kind of Mexican female spirit of fortitude.

Kahlo's painting Duas desnudas en La Selva (1939) is somewhat atypical of her work in that it suggests a relaxed lesbian eroticism. It depicts two nude women lying in front of a jungle. Embracing each other, they cross ethnic and social barriers to join in intimacy.

Roberto Montenegro

Homosexual artist Roberto Montenegro (1880-1968) felt constrained by his social milieu to refrain from painting overtly homosexual works. He did, however, make sly references to sexuality. The themes closest to his heart had to be coded into his paintings and murals. For example, his El arból de la vida (1922) has a scantily clad figure with a highly appearance reminiscent of depictions of Saint Sebastian.

Montenegro was highly regarded for his eclectic approach and his ability to work in several media. His drawings of the great dancer Nijinsky (1919) for London publisher Cyril Beaumont exhibit a draftsman's skill equal to that of Aubrey Beardsley whom he greatly admired.

Nahum B. Zenil

Nahum B. Zenil (b. 1947) is one of a handful of openly gay artists working in Mexico. He received his education at La Esmeralda and La Nacional de Maestros. His original, highly personal style first earned him fame in the 1980s. Today, he is one of Mexico's leading contemporary artists.

Among recurring themes in Zenil's works are his relations with his family (especially his mother), his past as a schoolteacher, his ambivalent feelings about Catholicism, and the realities of being a gay man in a conservative Latin culture. Since the 1970s, Zenil has focused on a single subject: himself. Almost all of the works that he has produced in the last 20 years include at least one self-portrait.

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