Arts News: Nelson-Atkins presents premiere screening of Hugo Ximello-Salido’s ‘Muxe’ documentary

Still from Hugo Ximello-Salido’s documentary, “MUXE” (photo by Juan Bustamante)

Hugo Ximello-Salido’s much-anticipated documentary, “MUXE,” originally slated for release in 2021, will finally see its premiere in Kansas City June 28, after being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ximello-Salido is a multidisciplinary artist, formerly based in Kansas City, now in Santa Fe. The documentary film, which he directed and produced, will complement his Muxe series about gender fluidity in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, presently showcased in multiple galleries across the country. His sculptural artwork “The Finesse of Gender Fluidity” is featured at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through September 2024 as part of the “A Layered Presence  / Una presencia estratificada” exhibition.

Filming for “MUXE” began in 2020 but encountered obstacles in accessing vital Zapotec archeological sites, impeding key elements of the storytelling process. To address these setbacks, Ximello-Salido opted for a reshoot in early March 2024. He assembled a diverse production team dedicated to capturing the essence of Muxe culture authentically, emphasizing the importance of community-crafted narratives.

The filming began by visiting the Zapotec ancestral site of Lambityeco, Oaxaca, where anthropologist Uriel Sanchez shared enriching insights about the genesis of Muxes and their importance to today’s conversation about gender fluidity. “Gender is a contemporary concept, so we have to go back to the roots of Zapotec times,” Ximello-Salido said. “It was different, a different kind of language.” Next came filming at the Mitla Cave and Tlacolula de Matamoros, an important site. Interviews included conversations with archeologist Leobardo Pacheco, Melissa Bojiseauneau, attorney and first trans woman to legally change gender in the state of Oaxaca, and various Muxe talent who were engaged by the filming crew.

“MUXE” challenges societal norms by celebrating the rich diversity of Zapotec identity. Ximello-Salido has noted that existing documentaries often fail to grasp the essence of Muxe identity, which extends beyond the categorization of a third gender. “Some of them exist in their own umbrella, they don’t think they are LGBT, for some of them they say: ‘I am just a Muxe,’” he said. He also emphasizes their individuality and resistance to external definitions, which is often reflected in their attire and artistic expressions. Ximello-Salido’s artistic choices echo this sentiment, conveying gender fluidity through diverse materials, transcending mere gender representation at times.

As societies strive for greater understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity, narratives like “MUXE” remind us of the beauty found in embracing difference. Through meticulous ethnographic research and honest interviews, “MUXE” promises to unearth the roots of a culture and how its variable language can facilitate a contemporary courageous dialogue and reflection, inviting audiences to reanalyze their perceptions of gender. The premiere at the Nelson-Atkins marks an exciting cinematic and artistic milestone for the artist/director and an opportunity for the audience to hear from Muxes themselves and learn how their existence challenges the dominant narratives about gender.

Ximello-Salido plans to organize free screenings of “MUXE” in Oaxaca as well, as a way to give back to these communities, including locations in Tlacolula and Juchitán de Zaragoza.

For tickets and screening details, visit www.nelson-atkins.org.

Alej Martinez

Alej Martinez, any pronouns, is an author, truth teller and community organizer deeply invested in the intersection of arts, social issues, justice and traditional ecological knowledge.

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