Nahúm B. Zenil

Chicontepec, Veracruz, Mexico, 1947. Lives and works in Tenango del Aire, Mexico

Mexican-Curios, 1993

Oil on canvas
27.5 X 19.5 in

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Nahúm B. Zenil uses his personal experiences as material for his work.  He focuses on revealing the problems that exist in the traditional way of experiencing Mexican national identity, which would seem to go hand in hand with a set of norms and behaviors demanded by certain social groups.  His work features national and religious symbols and employs points of reference like Frida Kahlo, votive offerings and popular handicrafts.

In Mexican-curious Zenil draws on traditional Mexican crafts, taking up the famous papier-mâché dolls produced in the city of Celaya known as “Lupitas” and personalizing them by painting each of their faces with a different self-portrait, that of Frida Kahlo and that of his romantic partner, Gerardo Vilchis.  These figures are typically decked out in jewels, but Zenil swaps shiny necklaces for branches with sharp spines in an allusion to Christ’s crown of thorns.

These references to popular art and the Catholic faith link the three figures with Mexican culture.  In this way, they are presented as autochthonous, artisanal objects that evoke the image of things Mexican, critiquing a nationalist, conservative society.