El Macho Menos tells the story of Lesdavag’s past as a first-generation Mexican-American growing up in a family heavily shaped by machismo culture.
Rooted in patriarchal gender roles, conservative religious influence, conflicting familial values, and the impact of emotional and physical violence, this exhibition navigates the nuances of identity, struggle, and autonomy. Each of Lesdavag’s pieces serve as memorials; they solemnly honor his experience of being raised by a domineering father, bound to machismo culture, and a strong and patient mother, both a heroine and a victim. His work combines intimate detail with widely recognized symbols of Mexican culture, wrestling with the concept of identity across an ambitious spectrum that ranges from the individual to the collective.
Many of the works’ titles are common Mexican expressions. By borrowing threads of shared language, Lesdavag collages idioms to articulate unspeakable feelings—inadequacy, fear, gratitude, grief. And just as their titles communicate experience through metaphor, these pieces reassemble the cultural symbols and systems to which he is attached; they illustrate the evolution of his selfhood, and their figurative nature makes them both relatable and endurable.
Con el alma en un hilo represents the artist’s encounters with domestic violence. Its literal translation, “with the soul in a string,” is meant to convey extreme worry or anxiety. One hand cast from gesso, reaches out from the wall with a benevolent gesture as if in saintly blessing; it suspends another hand (this, a tightly clutched fist) with a lock of hair. The contrast of allusions—commemorative statues of saints and hair freshly ripped from a wife’s or a son’s head—induces a silent chaos. The mirrored face is already shattered from the impact of a fist, and remains partially hidden behind a curtain covered in gesso. All elements of the piece are linked, and its movement is both placid and in action. It insists that the viewer step into another reflection, frozen with anticipation, and instills the very certain fear that the cycle of violence will continue.
No que muy gallo? challenges a display of masculinity, and antagonizes, “so you think you’re brave?” in a machismo manner valuing confidence, and aggression. A taxidermied rooter is hung upside down and yoked around the neck by two gesso castings of male genitals. Positioned on either side like opposite ends of a balance scale, the sex organs mimic the fragility of competitive masculinity, cocky hypersexuality, and how heavily such polarized gender ideals can burden the bearer.
Mi jefa lleva los huevos en y la casa subverts the patriarchal narrative of husband/father figure as sole provider. In witnessing his hand-working mother’s dedication to her career and her children, the artist recognizes the fallacy of a male-dominated household with a false phallus. A gesso-cast hand gingerly grasps a woven basket and straw assemblage of a penis and testicles. Inside, however, lies hidden elements the attribute the real stability and nourishment to the female—eggs in the baskets evoke abundance and fertility, and suddenly, rather than a man’s external sex organs, the viewer might recognize a more yonic structure.
La danza del Macho Menos shows the artist upon a platform of gesso and roses, wearing a pair traditional cowboy boots, dancing a baile folklórico. While the customary baile folklóricos of other regions in the Southwest United States and Mexico have specific meanings assigned to each step, Lesdavag’ dances a baile folklórico from his father’s native state of Chihuahua, in which the movements are not as simply translatable. Rather, the artist stamps out his own history, using physical metaphor to defy the traditions that force him into a box. The feminine roses, as if tossed from an unseen applauding audience, are trampled. In dancing a couple’s dance alone, Lesdavag surrenders as the sole object of attention, mourning what he has lost and celebrating the autonomy he has gained.
Translating to “always with the tip of the foot,” Siempre con la punta del pie refers to the feeling of constantly being treated poorly. With one boot, Lesdavag provides a stark and simple reminder that hypermasculinity enforces the value of strength—a boy must resist expressing physical or emotional pain in order to become a man and stand alone.
Perhaps the most moving piece in the collection, Rosario seeks closure. In tribute to his late mother, Lesdavag creates an alternate headstone for his mother’s grave which he couldn’t bring himself to see. A traditional northern Mexican hat is partially immersed in the hardened gesso block, both as an attempt to stifle some of the traditional aesthetics of manliness, but also as a gentlemanly gesture to tip one’s hat out of respect. With her name and years of her birth and death, starkly in front of the viewer, they are no longer the audience but drawn into the memorial, apart of the very funereal mourning process that the artist previously could not confront alone.
It is fitting that Lesdavag’s exhibition at Casa Lü closes on September 16th just as the celebration of Mexican Independence also ends. In the revolutionary birth of a nation, authority is established through political, emotional, and physical violence. Rules are rigidly enforced to maintain order. Entwined in a feedback loop of dominance and submission, a machismo identity—whether collective or individual—comes with sacrifice. But sacrifice is also the route to independence. With each element of El Macho Menos, Lesdavag deftly combines found objects, sculpture, drawing, performance and video to investigate the causes and symptoms of toxic masculinity. No one work is tethered to an individual thematic element or life event, and the range of materiality— from pliable straw and human hair, to the solid yet fallible gesso—defies categorization of a singular artistic tradition or discourse. This exhibition is one which which confronts an intimate reality of machismo culture and the toll it takes. It explores feeling less than adequate in performing one’s gender. It is persuading evidence that bravery is not always brazen, that concrete can be fluid, and that binaries are meant to be broken. In its entirety, Lesdavag’s El Macho Menos is simultaneously tender and forceful; accomplished and shattered; gritty and beautiful.
- Leah Clancy
Photos by Rubén Garay Araujo.