La Revolución Mexicana: 100 Years Later, an exhibition that opened at the McNay Art Museum on Aug. 29, timed to overlap Hispanic Heritage Month, will be on display in the museum’s Charles Butt Paperworks Gallery through Nov. 24.

The exhibition centers on a portfolio of 18 linoleum block prints by celebrated Mexican printmaker Artemio Rodriguez. The artist created the series of prints in 2010 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the onset of the Mexican Revolution. In the evocative black and white prints, Rodriguez depicts important figures on both sides of the fighting – including Eurocentric dictator Porfirio Díaz, poor farmer turned revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, and a host of others ranging from well-known leaders to unsung peasants.

Rounding out the exhibit are more than ten portraits of Zapata that represent more than 80 years of cultural memory and show his evolving and ultimately lasting legacy. The collection of Zapata portraits includes a painting by famed Mexican artist and champion of the proletariat Diego Rivera, as well as others from the museum’s permanent collection. It also features some new pieces that have not been shown at the McNay before.

Lyle W. Williams, the museum’s curator of prints and drawings, said he organized the exhibition with the universality of political and social struggles, like those surrounding the Mexican Revolution, in mind.

“There is always a struggle,” he said, “between the left and the right, between the haves and the have-nots, in every society.

“You can read about the Mexican Revolution and its key players or you can watch a documentary, but it has a tendency to seem distant.”

“This exhibit is a reminder of just how recent and local this history is,” he said, referencing the fact that turmoil from the revolution in Mexico frequently bled across the border and into Texas.

Melanie Cervantes’ La Lucha Sigue Sigue (2010) is part of a collection of Emiliano Zapata portraits on display as part of the exhibition. Credit: Courtesy / McNay Art Museum

At least one revolutionary figure, Francisco I. Madero, who would serve as president from 1911 to 1913, even used San Antonio as a temporary home base, issuing his plan for Mexico and declaring himself its legitimate president from here.

Williams wants attendees to see the Mexican Revolution as “a piece of shared history” and not something that is “foreign or different or other.”

For Williams, in general, the exhibit is “about revolution and upheaval, but it’s also about the cast of characters that helped form the idea of modern Mexico.”

“Different ideologies emerged after the revolution started,” he said, “so many that had originally fought alongside one another found themselves pitted against each other.”

Williams said he wanted to include the smattering of Zapata portraits alongside the prints by Rodriguez as a nod to the fact that “Zapata is still an extremely relevant figure in Mexico and around the world.”

“Even around San Antonio,” he said, “you encounter his image in all sorts of places.”

Over the years, Zapata has engendered “wildly different opinions of who he was – from a common thief to a great visionary, revolutionary leader.” Promoting and fueling that conversation is one of the purposes of this exhibition, in Williams’ estimation.

“More and more in the southwestern United States, Zapata has incredible relevance,” Williams said.

“His is an image that has become language,” he said of Zapata, “an important stand-in for the idea of popular revolt.”

The way Williams see it, as long as “‘Viva Zapata!’ is still a common grito … the man is still very much alive.”

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James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.