Nahum B. Zenil Mariposa, mariposa, 1976
Nahum B. Zenil (b. Chicontepec, Veracruz, 1947) is a celebrated Mexican artist who has since the mid-1970s used his own visage in self-portraits that meet the viewer’s gaze and return the stare, inviting the viewer to share in the protagonist’s melancholies and preoccupations. Often portrayed with his partner or beneath the Virgin of Guadalupe, the works engage with conformity and freedom, homosexuality and expectations, and “mestizism” in Mexico, with the artist and his own other multiplying and transforming. In Zenil’s works, which take as their primary medium ink on paper that deliberately yellows with time, the scenario is treated as a letter of communication, in the idiosyncratic hand of the artist. Raised in a rural setting, Zenil enrolled at the Escuela Nacional de Maestros (National Teachers’ School) in Mexico City, from which he graduated in 1964. He then entered the Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura (“La Esmeralda”) in Mexico City in 1968, with his work gaining widespread attention in the 1980s as a leader of the “Neomexicanismo” movement, in works that utilized traditional Mexican themes from religion and folk art in sometimes satirical or skeptical fashion. Zenil’s work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other public collections, and he has participated in more than 450 exhibitions worldwide, including at the Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (1982); in "Nahum B. Zenil: Witness to the Self" at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, and the Gray Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University (1996-7); "El Gran Circo del Mundo" at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (1999); and in the 31st Sao Paulo Biennial (2014). He is one of the founding members of the annual “Semana Cultural Gay” at Museo Universitario del Chopo, Mexico City.