Clotilde Jiménez

Queering Boxing, Undoing the “Macho”

Clotilde Jiménez is an Afro-Latino artist born in Honolulu that lives and works in Mexico D.F. Through collage, painting and sculpture, he uses his artistic practice to raise questions around race, class, sexuality and gender.

The colorful cartoon-like aesthetics in Jiménez’s compositions are a reference to the artist’s childhood, particularly his experience attending a Southern Baptist church. The artist admired the way the pastor would simplify the parables to the point that he was able to understand the message. Simplification and making accessible the complex stories and questions that he is asking, so everyone can enter the work and the space with a lot of understanding, have driven the artist’s practice from the beginning. To that end too, the artist incorporates to his work a sensible dose of humor, since, as he maintains, “it is easier to talk about certain things if you approach them with a little comical sense but respecting the weight of the subject. It’s about finding the balance.”

Jiménez is Inspired by the artist of the Harlem Renaissance William H. Johnson, who portrayed Black subjects in a relatable way and away from the realistic academic style. In that same spirit of accessibility and reaching broader audiences from outside the art world, Jiménez strives to create a visual language that defies the Western tradition.

Even more, the artist is developing a visual language that depicts individuals that look like him in a meaningful way and tells the common shared story of his ancestors and Black life from his own lived experience. The big feet and hands in Jiménez’s work become a symbol, suggesting how little society has changed in terms of understanding race and class. “My grandma said that sometimes black people’s hands and feet are larger than life because of the labour and hardship that people have gone through” – a situation that has morphed but endured to date. Charcoal has increasingly become more prominent in Jiménez’s work as a medium to depict Black bodies, whilst living in a country that has a troubled history in relation to race and that lives with the consequences of it.

In the past few years, Jiménez has incorporated to his practice the exploration of the notions of gender and sexuality in an attempt to amplify the limiting understanding of these, particularly that of masculinity, and coinciding with the grounding and open acknowledgment of the artist’s own bisexuality. His most recent series, Pose and The Contest – exhibited at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago in 2020 – are precisely about the artist’s own intersection between the two, his masculinity and his sexuality. Drawing from his own boxing practice – encouraged by his father at age 13 and within the family for generations – Jiménez describes these two bodies of work as “an open letter to my father”, whereby he confesses his truth to his senior in a gesture towards “understanding and unpacking my own queer relationship, new relationship, to the physicality of this kind of athleticism.”

Super-muscular women and men referencing the figure of Greco-Roman gladiators are portrayed in these series celebrating the athletic nudity and the aesthetic allure of these sporting bodies. Jiménez sensualises the embodied perception of masculinity in body-builders, which remains very much dominated by traditional toxic configurations around the idea of powerful ‘macho’, in favor of an appreciation of the raw beauty of corporeality, independently of gender. “There’s something queer about people, and most particularly men, building their bodies, grunting in the gym, rubbing oil on each other, they put the little neon pink thong to get on stage to be stared at by other men”, says Jiménez. He thus dismantles the limiting principles of what’s expected, opening up the imagination to larger possibilities of performing gender and embodied presence.

The gym stands as the bare witness of this new array of possibilities for gender performativity and understanding, Jiménez converts it in a sensual and safe temple where performing bodies become objects, subjected to the gaze, desire and erotic encounter. “A place”, he expains, “where one can meditate”.

Raquel Villar-Pérez is a Spanish art writer and curator based in the UK.