In September 2014, Omar Gámez established initial contacts with people in the barrio’s gyms to implement the co-participation process. Attending gyms as a regular member, he discovered that a vast majority of young men were concerned about their physical appearance in an attempt to stand out from the rest. Following the stereotypes of today’s male fashion, some are concentrated on specific bodybuilding, while others are interested in developing a muscular and strong body. Most of this Mexican photographer’s work has focused on the way the masculine body is shown or hidden in different contexts or places in an attempt to nurture the sexual and gender imaginary by using the body, desire, and its link to pornography and to that which is forbidden.
A Reflection on Masculine Beauty Prototypes on the Santa María La Ribera context. (Una reflexión sobre los patrones de belleza masculina desde el marco barrial de Santa María La Ribera) (Title of the work)
The project’s goal is to vindicate different male physical appearance models in the Santa María La Ribera barrio. By means of a photographic record and publicity support in the community, Gámez wants to emphasize and discuss certain masculine beauty patterns that are not usually seen in commercial publicity or in the media. Gámez will begin by making a photographic study of five men from the barrio, wearing a specially made wardrobe and in selected locations in Santa María. The aim of the photographs will be to nurture thought and instigate debate about the miscegenation phenotypes in our country, and the racist stereotypes that set hierarchies and social impositions of colonial esthetic standards.
Gámez began by identifying males between the ages of eighteen to fifty years in the barrio, whose physical appearance could evoke some miscegenation features in an urban male population such as that found in Santa María. Gámez interviewed five persons with different features to find out significant moments in their life stories. That information determined their personalized wardrobe to stress the way they understand, cope with, and express their physical appearance in society. The artist also invited Gustavo García-Villa, fashion wardrobe expert, and Rafiki Sánchez, a Yucatán-born artist, to jointly create the image of each participant. A local barbershop will be in charge of the model’s haircuts.
The challenge in this proposal is to create a piece that will enable critical thinking about the image of Mexican males within an urban context, as well as about the social roles that men have to adopt, the way they recreate or reinvent their public image, and their self-esteem. The resulting piece will publicly expose the social tensions that these stereotypes hide/reveal, stressing the obvious diversity in mestizaje, while disapproving all judgments about gender or racial physical appearance.
Omar Gámez, 2015
In several discussions, Gámez inquired about some competitions—mainly bodybuilding contests—that are held in the barrio and which attract a large number of participants. Then, the artist decided to use these experiences to generate a male beauty contest promoted by the barrio and addressed to people who live or work in Santa María La Ribera. His main interest is to reignite this brief local tradition while generating a creative co-participative process. By means of the announcement and the event, Gámez wants to resignify male beauty in an urban environment, distancing it from commonly used clichés in the media and in advertising.
Gámez invites people not only to be part of the event’s organization, but also to invite other people in the barrio who may be interested and enthused in creating a male beauty contest. The purpose is to have individuals who generate work or cultural dynamics in the barrio to collaborate in the creative definition of the contest. The owner of a local beauty shop that is very popular among the young, a male dancer who was born in the barrio, and a theater promoter in Santa María La Ribera are some of the individuals already involved in the project.
The second meeting of the male beauty contest committee is held at the Microteatro, the project’s performing arts facilities. During the meeting, the guidelines for the notice are defined, and the possible candidates to form the jury, as well as the locations to host the event, are discussed. Thus, Gámez and the committee members discuss the different ideas to define the event’s structure that have been expressed by all the committee members.
As a result of the votes cast by the committee, the event is officially named Certamen de belleza masculina Mister Santa María La Ribera 2015 (Mister Santa María La Ribera 2015 Male Beauty Contest). The committee then visits different locations to find a place with the best production facilities to hold the contest. To define the runways, Omar Gámez shows audiovisual material to the committee. The designer of the poster for the event suggests ideas and formats to publicize the event.
Omar Gámez and some members of the committee redesign the format for the male beauty contest to choose a Mister Santa María La Ribera 2016. The process will require a public notice, and will be open to all young men working or living in the barrio who are willing to attend a casting session. Then printed material will include photographs of the winner and the finalists to promote different features considered attractive, as well as their preferred dress styles and looks that are related to those of the barrio.
To generate feedback that may encourage critical comments and possible rethinking of the project, Omar Gámez’ proposal is discussed with guests: Itala Schmelz and Luis Vargas Santiago, and with inSite’s curator team.
After, Gámez presents his proposal—he focuses only on discussing the male beauty patterns prevailing in the barrio, unrelated to the contest’s framework—that is now centered more on the contest as a vehicle to build awareness of the diverse types of male features in the barrio and of the potential of individual stories underlying the impact of their physical appearance. In this new phase, the artist and some committee members concentrate on choosing five males between eighteen and fifty years of age that may represent various masculinity models, based on their personalities and life stories. Once selected, specific wardrobes will be designed to portray the image these participants want to project. The photographic sessions and the resulting images will play a key role in the material to be distributed in the barrio, and which will problematize the concepts of masculine stereotypes, the beauty patterns, and the social and racial prototypes in Santa María La Ribera.
The last stage in the production of the Mestizo project—focused on male beauty, ethnic diversity, and racial pride—resulted in four selected images for the billboards. These were shown on some walls at the Plaza FORUM Buenavista, a shopping mall near Santa María that has a large clientele from the barrio. The images of the four men, all from the barrio, and with slogans about mestizaje, emphasize the contrast with the promotional images on showcases in apparel, accessories, and services shops inside the mall. The general physiognomy of the models in the Mestizo project, their skin color, and phenotypes are obviously different from those imposed by the predominant marketing strategies in Mexico. In addition to the public display of the Mestizo images, the images were also available to the public in a postcard format that, on the back, included stories about the life of these men as told to the artist. The Mestizo publicity campaign will also cover several gymnasiums in Santa María.