Alberto Gironella, Queen of Yokes
Queen of Yokes: A Unique Mexican Icon
Though Mexico gained full political independence from Spain in 1821, the Spanish and European influence that was established during its rule left a heavy mark on Mexican society. The cultural and political domination of Europe crippled Mexican artists and left them with an unfair paradox—they were trained and encouraged to create art following European standards but, despite depending on this art to develop their careers, were not praised or accepted into this lineage due to their heritage. Mexican artist Alberto Gironella challenged this problem by using mixed media to manipulate European art. Gironella’s Queen of Yokes employs a unique combination of European icons and found objects to reject the limiting standards that colonialism placed on artists.
Gironella’s choice of subject, the young Queen Mariana of Austria—who was Philip IV of Spain’s second wife—appears in many of his works. By choosing Mariana as the subject of Queen of Yokes, Gironella would seem to be honoring her royal lineage. However, instead of reinforcing her power, the Queen of Yokes mocks it through its media and style, both of which play with standard artistic representations to transform her significance. Oil painting on canvas was particularly associated with the European Great Masters. By rejecting this medium and incorporating mixed media, Gironella rejects European traditions of oil painting. Portraying a powerful queen with a medium that was abnormal by European standards suggests an even more direct rejection of European imperialism as a whole.
Gironella was known for his frequent use of ultramarinos: small objects, materials, and wrappers that were once foreign to Mexico but became commonplace in everyday life. In Queen of Yokes, Mariana’s wig is made up of the yellow bottle tops of Superior beer, symbolizing the brand’s popular slogan “la rubia que todos quieren” [the blond that everyone loves] and “reducing Mariana to that Latin American cliché, that accessible, desirable, blonde foreign female” (Fraser, 41). It is evident that these bottle tops have been stepped on, forgotten, dirtied, and buried, indicating Gironella’s desire to disprove such a foreign cliche. The wig is a symbol of prestige, and by illustrating it with discarded commodities, Gironella suggests a level of superficiality in the construction of status.
Superior is a Mexican brand, so its bottle caps are technically not considered ultramarinos. However, the process of commodity production and consumption, originally a European and imperialistic practice, “has been integrated into the domestic Mexican environment…from far away” just like ultramarinos have (Fraser, 39). Therefore, the idea of consumerism functions as a figurative ultramarino. By choosing a Mexican consumer product to depict part of Queen Mariana, Gironella is claiming consumerism—a once-European and imperialistic idea—as Latin American, which further denounces her status as a European figure. Additionally, by shaping much of Mariana’s body with Mexican calaveras [skulls], gourd-breasts, and snakes’ heads, Gironella has transformed her into a symbol of modern Mexican and indigenous culture. Depicting Mariana in these ways challenges traditional expectations and admiration of Spanish icons and defies the control that Europe had over Mexican society.
Queen of Yokes is one of many works that allows Gironella to, in his own way, create “a representation of Mexico that “combine[s] the ‘lost values’ of the past with new values to produce an art appropriate to modern America” (Fraser 42). By rejecting a historically dominant power and using non-traditional, mixed media, Gironella employs and promotes a new tradition found in Latin American Pop Art.
-Sophie Cummins and Schuyler Debree
Fraser, Valerie. "Surrealising the Baroque: Mexico's Spanish Heritage and the Work of Alberto Gironella." Oxford Art Journal, 1991, 34-43.