Innovative use of arts in Latin American radical movements: lessons from Zapatismo

Isabelle Gribomont


The encounter between Marxism and traditional Indigenous cosmology is the foundational moment of the Zapatista movement, and perhaps its most solid and ever-present characteristic. Inheriting from those two traditions, the Zapatista discursive practice, through its literary aspects – e.g. poetic language, humour, metatextual interplays and literary references of all sorts – undermines neoliberal capitalism via deconstructed and translated Western and Indigenous epistemologies.
On February 29 2016, the Zapatistas revealed that they will, for the first time, organise an art festival in the second half of July. This event is unprecedented for the movement, but probably for the whole leftist guerrilla tradition as well. This paper will be an attempt to link the experience of the festival with the literary aspects of the Zapatista communiqués. This festival will be a unique opportunity to exchange with Zapatista artists, and therefore understand the role of the creative process and the public encounter between different artistic mediums and representations in the Zapatista struggle and political strategy.
The Zapatista imagery, as exposed in the murals painted in the Caracoles, ranges from Frida Khalo or the Mexican revolution to Maya cosmology and Western artists such as Matisse. This diversity in the imaginary world of the movement ties in with the communiqués, which also impress by the scope of their referents. Both the literariness of the communiqués and Zapatista art contribute into creating a bridge that narrows the distance between art-making and the production of social thought. A joint analysis of the artistic aspect of the Zapatista discourse and the first Zapatista art festival promises to provide insights on the role of imagination and creativity in Zapatismo, but also about the potential of the arts in the creation of novel forms of creative political discourses and practices in Latin America.

literature - art - latin american left - social movements