Uncontainable Zapata : iconicity, religiosity, and visual diaspora




Vargas Santiago, Luis Adrián

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines the iterations and scatterings of the icon of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in Mexico and the U.S. during the twentieth century. In theorizing Zapata as an uncontainable icon, this project interrogates its irrepressible nature, shifting from one realm of signification to another as part of an incessant diaspora of images between Mexico and the U.S. Looking at the intertwining of image-making and religious structures surrounding the invention and reinvention of narratives around modern Mexico, this project unfolds the diverse and often contradictory mutations of Zapata’s icon, and its distinct ability to embody diverging political, gender, racial, and ethnic agendas across borders and time.

Performing close readings of select visual and filmic works, each chapter focuses on the dominant ideologies, the local, national and geopolitical values, and the myriad affects permeating the social activations and uses of Zapata’s icon. Chapter One considers the tensions between visualizations of historical Zapata that he promoted himself during the 1910s through photographic means and the contemporaneous negative representations in cartoons and newspapers that rendered him as a barbarian Indian, a rapist and disrespected revolutionary charro. Chapter Two analyzes how post-revolutionary intellectual elites, particularly muralist Diego Rivera, gradually converted the late Zapata into the consummate hero of a nationalist and socialist program that, drawing heavily on Catholic forms, served to reconcile the country’s diverse ethnic and political factions, while encompassing its various cultural backgrounds through the homogeneous idea of mestizaje. Chapter Three concerns the scattering of his icon on U.S. soil: first in Anglo-American contexts, where he served to reinforce forms of American exceptionalism during the Great Depression and Cold War America, and then within the Chicana/o movement where his icon served Indo-Hispanos in New Mexico and Mexican-Americans in California to embody and promote complex ideas of race, belonging, citizenship, and nationalism. Finally, the dissertation considers the case of modern Zapatistas in Chiapas, as a call to challenge the internal limits, as well as the external borders, of our discipline so as to engage a transnational art history of the Americas.



LCSH Subject Headings