Art and National Symbols. The Mexican Flag and Anthem

Ra’al Ki Victorieux

This article is a tribute to creators who have used symbols of identity in their work, who courageously exercise their right to intellectual freedom. Creation, expression, exhibition liberty. The freedom of writing, of criticism, sometimes with fortune and, at other times, even despite censorship, prison, or exile. It is important to recognize the work of those who create work with political and identity iconography in a libertarian discourse.

2010 – 2004, Iris México

After the censorship of her exhibition “Pasión por Mexico” at the Legislative Palace of San Lázaro, in 2004, the visual, conceptual and performance artist Iris México showcases her artwork on several following dates: She takes alternative spaces, manifests through the network and in public space, as Miguel Ángel de Quevedo Avenue, the façade of national institutions such as the Palace of Fine Arts and San Lázaro. Her work has been recognized as part of the work of Latin American activists and videographers and exhibited in galleries and museums in countries of America and Europe. She recently published her memoirs concerning activism for unity and freedom in the arts, in the book VIII Aikya.

Art and National Symbols. The Mexican Flag and Anthem

2002, Cynthia Klitbo, Fausto Ramírez

Cynthia Klitbo, to publicize the play “Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda” (Between Villa and a naked woman), by Sabina Berman, participates in an advertising campaign for which the national symbols are displayed (1).

The play “Impecable y diamantina” (Impeccable and diamond), excited the spectators of the National Theater Show, held in Xalapa, Veracruz. The proposal of Fausto Ramírez and his group found an echo by stripping the national symbols of solemnity. Bravado exclamations encouraged the actors when they showed the skull of a hero with the nose of a clown or danced a version of the national anthem to the cumbia rhythm. The laughter of those present was distilled by the painful certainty of seeing portrayed, even in pamphlet form, the unresolved Mexican identity (2).

1996, Nahum Zenil, Arturo Elizondo

Nahum Zenil (3), in his work Oh Santa Bandera, a Enrique Guzmán. (Oh Holy Flag, to Enrique Guzmán), as he clarifies in the title, refers to Guzmán’s 1977 work. Nahum portrays himself naked, with his back to the viewer, bent over, with the flag portrayed by Guzmán held up with his ass. This artwork can hardly be the most requested by a conservative collector. Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros considers that this work seems to indicate that Nahum wanted to be possessed by the memory of Guzmán. This comment is a clear allusion to the open homosexuality of Zenil, without this being a primarily sexual work. Espinosa de los Monteros avoids talking about the important political and identity burden of the image. I believe that since Guzmán shows us a screaming homeland, what Zenil does is make criticism more acidic and present us with a homeland, possibly outraged, and obviously sodomizing.

Arturo Elizondo, in his work Tres tristes tigres (Three sad tigers), elaborates a speech with images of the Guadalupana, bandits, the flag and the national shield, revolutionaries and a diagonal black cross. (4)

1990, Sergio Witz Rodríguez

The writer Sergio Witz Rodríguez publishes “Diario Oficial“, (Official Gazette), a poem in which he sarcastically alludes to the flag. Witz was a fellow from Conaculta and is the author of the book “El bosque explicativo“, (The explanatory forest), a collection of poems published in 1990 by the Tierra Adentro publishing fund, in its Young Creators series.

Censorship: Because of this work, the State, through the Directorate of Interinstitutional Coordination and Civic Development of the Ministry of the Interior (Segob), has harassed and persecuted him. He faced a lawsuit for outrage against national symbols (5).

1987, Rolando de la Rosa

Rolando de la Rosa, “Rolis”, enjoyed certain fame because, in the 1986 Section for Alternative Spaces held at the National Auditorium, he presented an installation on Trotskyism, Stalinism, a work that was praised by Raquel Tibol. In December 1987, Rolis presented a walkable installation-setting entitled “El Real Templo Real” (The Real Royal Temple) in the Alternative Spaces Section of the National Salon of Plastic Art held at the MAM. Said work-project had been approved by the jury made up of Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, Hilda Campillo, and Luis Rius Caso. The work was located in an area limited by partitions. The work intended to recreate a temple with an architecture-setting project to form altars and niches with the artistic proposals. This was done to the best of time and money, and according to some of those who witnessed it, the piece had technical deficiencies, for example, a ceiling made with clothespins that appeared out of context.

A sign warned before entering the room, that if you were a very conservative person, do not enter because you could feel offended. This sign was suggested by the jury. After entering the space of the work, the viewer found a life-size image made in collage art, which showed the Virgin of Guadalupe with the face of Marylin Monroe and boobs. To the right was the only image with national symbols: a flag on the ground with worn Texas boots on them. Referring to the power of the north in the country. Later, a Sacred Heart in which the head of Christ was replaced by a soccer ball, and a Last Supper in which Pedro Infante occupies the main place. De la Rosa argued that these prints were a criticism of the Mexican double standard evidenced in magazine stands, mechanical workshops and other everyday places, in which religious images are placed next to calendars of chorus girls or soccer idols. This work was not awarded.

Censorship: The intimidation campaign orchestrated by the church and Pro Vida included: A) phone calls with death threats to jurors at night and in the early mornings. B) A demonstration on January 88 in front of the museum. Right-wing groups distributed flyers in churches inviting believers to defend the Virgin image. They arrived singing and carrying religious banners at the doors of the Museum of Modern Art. The then deputy director of the MAM negotiated with them to withdraw the work that offended them the most, which was that of the virgin with “that prostitute.” This piece was confined to the museum’s cellars. C) The massive “Act of Reparation”. Right-wing religious groups summoned a crowd to the cathedral and marched to the Basilica of Guadalupe. D) They carried out a media campaign. The Excelsior newspaper and later the tabloid newspapers published a scandal and lynching campaign. Editorials dedicated to the jurors and the museum director calling them irresponsible and demanding legal punishment. E) The Alternative Spaces Room is canceled. F) Even though the Undersecretary of Culture of the Secretary of Public Education, SEP, Martín Reyes Vaysade manifests in a media outlet that the federal government, INBA, supports the jury’s decision, a few months later Jorge Alberto Manrique is removed from his position as director of the MAM, they requested his resignation.

Note: Although the church and ProVida appeared before the public light as authors of the censorship for religious reasons. It is said that the image of the flag and the boots could have offended the army, which could have joined these acts of repression behind the scenes because according to the law they cannot intervene in certain civil areas. In such a way that the work of the flag was not mentioned again.

Defense: A committee of Cultural Workers was formed in favor of freedom of expression because at that time there were several acts of censorship. However, De la Rosa could not bear the pressure and did not confront his censors head-on. The only interview he gave on television was from behind.

1978, Guzmán & Grupo Mira

Enrique Guzmán, faithful to his iconography, presents Patriot Day, a work of dark blue and gray tones, contrary to the usual festivities. Framed, the flag has a shoe in the center, and to the right of the painting, there is a house next to a tree in a bleak setting.

In Vice and Virtue, we can see a sarcastic interpretation of the flag, in the green, a devil making a gum bomb inserts a Gillette with the American flag which threatens, in the red, an obviously Mexican egg. These symbols are separated by the central area with a landscape of melancholic romanticism. Guzmán is a neo-nationalist author. Guzmán’s neo-nationalism already lives outside the nationalism of the “Mexican School”, he critically portrays identity. The flag was a recurring figure in its iconography, in a clear divergence between the “national and official reality” dictated by the State and the personal one. With sarcasm, he reflects how sovereignty has been trampled (flags with shoes), quotes conceptual art (Duchamp‘s urinal), and mocks images considered “holly ones or monuments.”

The Mira Group creates a graphic image in which the shield, due to its design, is close to that of Serfín’s eagle. In the foreground he places a war tank, and the letters in typography of the Olympic games with the text: Mexico 68 78.

1977 – 73, Enrique Guzmán

Enrique Guzmán carries out various works with national symbols: ¡Oh Santa bandera! (Oh Holy Flag!), it is the image of a flag with a pre-Hispanic-style mouth instead of a shield. The author’s signature goes on a small piece of paper in the mouth of a little bird in the sky. In La Patria, (The Homeland) Guzmán paints the flag, again with a screaming mouth in the place of the shield, and on the flag a men’s shoe and a rose.

In 1974 he created the work Imagen milagrosa, (Miraculous Image), in which we see in the foreground a toilet, in the second Christ with his heart pierced by rockrose in national colors. In a third plane, we see the toilet, the flag, a blessing hand, and a hand crossed by tricolor rockrose. In 1973 he presented Sonido de una mano aplaudiendo (Sound of a clapping hand), o Marmota herida, (Wounded Marmot), a work that presents horizontal rows of squares, roses, flags, smiles, hearts, folded hands, penises, pigeons, and boat windows. In the center, a marmot with an open stomach. In this work, he gathers images of religion, sexuality, and national symbols.

  1. Ponce, R. (April 4, 2002). Usarán símbolos patrios en la publicidad de Entre Villa… (They will use national symbols in the advertising of Entre Villa…) El Universal. Shows. p. 4
  2. A surprising farce about national symbols. (December 1, 2002). The universal. Culture. p. 4
  3. Nahum B. Zenil. El gran circo del mundo. (The great circus of the world). (1999) The Mexican Society of Modern Art.
  4. Salón de Triunfadores (Hall of Achievers). 30 years of young art. (1996). Mexico. INBA. p. 43
  5. Castillo, J. (November 13, 2001). Acusan a poeta de ultrajar símbolos patrios. (They accuse the poet of outraging national symbols). The universal. Culture. p. 1


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