An Artistic Encounter Between Black Panthers and Zapatistas
What is the role of revolutionary art in times of distress? When Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, accepted an invitation from the art collective EDELO and Rigo 23 to meet with autonomous Indigenous and Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico, they addressed just this question. Zapantera Negra is the result of their encounter. It unites the bold aesthetics, revolutionary dreams, and dignified declarations of two leading movements that redefine emancipatory politics in the twentieth and twenty-first century.
The artists of the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas were born into a centuries-long struggle against racial capitalism and colonialism, state repression and international war and plunder. Not only did these two movements offer the world an enduring image of freedom and dignified rebellion, they did so with rebellious style, putting culture and aesthetics at the forefront of political life. A powerful elixir of hope and determination, Zapantera Negra provides a galvanizing presentation of interviews, militant artwork, and original documents from these two movements’ struggle for dignity and liberation.
In 1994 the Zapatista uprising, a Mexican indigenous movement from the southern state of Chiapas, produced and leveraged a different form of mass communication with the use of images, the body, and instant communication through the use of the Internet. The distribution of actions, images and video spread throughout the world in real time, bringing awareness while building solidarity for what the New York Times called “the first post-modern revolution.” Positioning itself as a struggle against neo-liberalism and waged against 500 years of oppression, Zapatismo has employed new technologies of information distribution in order to articulate their wants, beliefs, and various identities to their global audience.
Omar Inzunza Perez - Gran OM
EDELO (Where the United Nations Used to Be)
In the Fall of 2009, over one hundred displaced indigenous community members occupied the offices of the United Nations, located in San Cristóbal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. The offices were taken over in the hope of gaining international attention from humanitarian organizations. After a few months of the occupation, the United Nations simply decided to find another building and moved.
A few months later, Mia Eve Rollow and Caleb Duarte, disillusioned with institutional art, wished to believe that art was a radical form of communication, and soon moved into the building and began an experimental art space and an international artist residency of diverse practice. They began to invite artists, activists, cultural workers, inventors, gardeners, PhDs, jugglers, and educators to take part in creating an experiment in art and social change. This group of artists, disenchanted by the continuing linear path of art history, came to EDELO (En Donde Era la ONU / Where the United Nations Used to BE) in favor of art as a vehicle for possible transformation.
Inspired by the 1994 indigenous Zapatista uprising, where word and poetry are used to inspire a generation to imagine ‘other’ possible worlds, EDELO has retained the name of the UN office. It is a part of an investigation into how Art, in all its disciplines and contradictions, can take the supposed role of such institutional bodies to create understanding, empathy, and to serve as a tool for imagining alternatives to a harmful and violent system that we do not have to accept.
Zapantera Negra gathered the visual results of four encounters, beginning in 2012 and ending in 2016, between the Black Panthers and Zapatistas and guided by the works and presence of Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party. For this encounter, Emory teamed up with Zapatista women embroidery collectives, Zapatista farmers and painters, and with local artists, activists and musicians to create new works that reflect and celebrate these two powerful movements. Each movement presents a distinct position in terms of cultural and political milieus, yet both build from a shared understanding of the power of art. From public interventions, installations, video art, performance, mural painting, lectures, and living and working with Zapatista families, Zapantera Negra presents a collection of works ignited collectively by the public’s urge and necessity to demonstrate, protest, and create. And in times of much revolutionary fever and economic inequality, we feel it is important to share what art can and has done to create change.
Such a radical break is presented by the creation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966 and the artworks created by Emory Douglas for its newspaper. At its peak in 1970, 400,000 copies of The Black Panther newsletter were distributed weekly throughout the United States on a weekly basis. Within its pages, Emory Douglas, published his artworks in an effort to “illustrate conditions that made revolution seem necessary [and to] construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.” The newsletter and its accompanying illustrations played a central role in the articulation of the “What We Want, What We Believe” portion of the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program. The BPP newspaper helped to establish a Black Panther aesthetic of Black Power and Revolution.
Although the Black Panther and the Zapatista movements occurred in distinct cultural, political, and historical milieu, the two share a common appreciation of the power of the image and the written word to translate their respective social movements into personal, collective, transformative, and public experiences. In contrast to the strong self-definition established and disseminated by these two movements via pertinent media channels, today’s multimedia, plugged-in landscape seems to promote the opposite process. As opposed to contemporary ‘high art’ practices taught by leading institutions, Zapantera Negra is a project that demonstrates how contemporary art practices can sidestep conventional political and conceptual performative works by working in communities of struggle from the ground up. This is a grassroots effort to bring together two very powerful visual and political social movements.
Casa de Las Americas, Havana Cuba, 2018
AND IF I DEVOTED MYSELF TO ONE OF ITS FEATHERS, Kunsthalle Wein Museum, Vienna, 2021
“Zapantera Negra is a rare document from the US and Mexico that intertwines art, dialogues, and processes between artists and cultural spaces that open collaborative intersections of politics and creation far outside the confines of art as commerce and rigid politics. Blending striking images and personal stories of the Black Panther Party and the Zapatistas, the book spans revolutionary tendencies and histories rooted in collective liberation. With hope and determination, Zapantera Negra shows us the power that art has to seed flowers that push through concrete, dissolve static confines, and open liberatory possibilities for living unwritten futures.”—scott crow, author of Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective and Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams
”Zapantera Negra provides a stunning display of why art is not just helpful but also utterly necessary to humanity’s efforts to achieve justice. This book provides a journey of heart and mind through the relationship of two critically important movements and, extending around it all, the depth and power of national liberation and internationalism. As I read Zapantera Negra, I felt fortunate to be able to witness these cultural creations and conversations, and to hold in my hands a history that goes beyond words and teaches truth through the alchemy of revolutionary art.”—Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner and editor of The War Before: The True Life Story of Becoming a Black Panther, Keeping the Faith in Prison, and Fighting for Those Left Behind by the late Safiya Bukhari
“Zapantera Negra is an incredible endeavor, the depth of which is not often found in social practice: a direct and embodied connection between a key actor in a major social movement in US history (the Black Panthers) and the people of Chiapas, carrying the legacy and expressions of an equally revolutionary struggle in Mexico (the Zapatistas), some thirty years apart. The subtlety and complexity of this project, and its implications for a globally engaged arts-based activism is truly impressive.”—Suzanne Lacy, artist and author of Leaving Art and Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art
“This collaboration reflects the brilliant echoes of 500 years of resistance. From the Seminole swamps to the Southwest plains, Black and Brown hands reach together to build liberation dreams against the nightmares of racism, war, and colonialism. The depictions found in Zapantera Negra—the magic of Black church women and las mujeres campesinos; children wise beyond years and adults following their lead—show communities in struggle challenging Empire from below and to the left. By drawing out Black and Indigenous liberatory politics and the need for spaces to resist, conspire, and inspire, this is a more than a book—it is a call to home.”—Kazembe Balagoon, writer, cultural activist, and Project Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New York
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Zapantera Negra, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain, 2022
ZAPANTERA NEGRA, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, Caltilolli, Ciudad de Mexico, 2021
AND IF I DEVOTED MYSELF TO ONE OF ITS FEATHERS, Kunsthalle Wein Museum, Vienna, 2021
ELEMENTS OF VOGUE. UN CASO DE ESTUDIO DE PERFORMANCE RADICAL, Museo del Chopo de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 2019
LOS HUECOS DEL AGUA: ARTE ACTUAL DE PUEBLOS ORIGINARIOS / THE HOLES OF WATER: CURRENT ART OF ORIGINAL PEOPLES Zapantera Negra large embroidery installation, Museo del Chopo de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico, 2019
UN MUNDO DONDE CEPAN MUCHOS MUNDOS / A WORLD WHERE MANY WORLDS FIT
Zapantera Negra large embroidery installation, Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba, 2018
DO SILÊNCIO À MEMÓRIA / FROM SILENCE TO MEMORY
Paco das Artes, Sau Paulo, Brazil, 2018
COMPARTE - ZAPANTERA NEGRA MURAL
Zapatista Conference for Artist & Scientists, University of the Earth, Chiapas, Mexico 2016
HEMISPHERIC INSTITUTE OF PERFORMANCE AND POLITICS
Choreographing Social Movements in the Americas, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montréal, Canada, 2014
AUTONOMOUS INTERGALACTIC SPACE PROGRAM
Led by artist Rigo 23, EDELO hosted this autonomous space program and interdisciplinary collaboration with over one hundred weavers, seamstresses, painters, carpenters, cultural activists and organizers of southern Chiapas, Mexico for six months. Materials from this project continue to exhibit internationally. Works from this project exhibit across the globe, including in Los Angeles (2012), Guandong, China (2013), Queens, New York (2019), and Rockville, MD (2020)