A throng of protesters took to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the top museums in Mexico City, on Tuesday to demand that a nude portrait of Emiliano Zapata be removed from an ongoing exhibition focused on the Mexican Revolution. According to the BBC, the action at the institution lasted several hours, with some protesters reportedly “shouting homophobic slurs” that led to a counter-protest.
The work in question, created in 2014 by the artist Fabián Cháirez and titled La Revolución (The Revolution), depicts Zapata seated atop a white horse and wearing a pink sombrero and black heels. A ribbon with red, white, and green stripes is wrapped loosely around Zapata’s arms and torso.
“This isn’t freedom of expression, it is debauchery! It’s degrading. They can’t exhibit our history that way,” Antonio Medrano, a spokesman for the protesters, told the Guardian.
The Guardian also reported that Zapata’s grandson, Jorge Zapata González, intends to take legal action against the museum if the painting is not taken down.
“We are not going to allow this,” Zapata Gonzalez told the publication. “For us as relatives, this denigrates the figure of our general—depicting him as gay.”
Zapata is a major figure in Mexican history—he became known for championing landless peasants in the state of Morelos in the early 20th century before he was assassinated in 1919 at age 39. He is among the country’s most famous political figures, particularly on the left.
Though the painting has previously been exhibited, the work was brought to the public’s attention by the Ministry of Culture’s social media campaign for the exhibition, according to the BBC. Cháirez told the BBC that his work disrupts traditional representations of Zapata in which “masculinity is glorified.”
“There are some people who experience discomfort from bodies that don’t obey the rules,” Cháirez told the BBC. “In this case, where is the offense? [The protesters] see an offense because Zapata is feminized.”
ARTnews has reached out to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for comment.