Mr. Poper
México -
July 11, 2023

Being fag in Mexican public schools

The recent visual work of Nicolás Marín, alias Mr. Poper, explores the universe of the school classroom from a queer approach. His drawings and canvases stage the daily life of children who struggle to express themselves individually in a repressive environment and to live their sexuality outside the crushing influence of the state machinery.

By Alonso Almenara

Transvestism, religious imagery, echoes of BDSM culture, and nostalgic appropriations of cartoons such as Sailor Moon: the work of Nicolás Marín, better known as Mr. Poper, deploys various visual resources to talk about the queer universe. But in recent years, the Mexican artist’s production has become more introspective and critical: the pop references and explicit eroticism of his first canvases are now complemented by images inspired by the disciplinary universe of the school classroom. A path that has allowed him to explore themes such as dissident sexuality in childhood and the nationalist rhetoric that shapes the educational sector.

Born in Puebla, Marin is an editorial designer, graphic artist, and painting teacher in a public school in his city. He admits that his followers sometimes miss the vitality of his early pop works: “What I do is very varied, but it is true that it is difficult for me to find an audience for the images I am working on now,” he says. “I’m interested in addressing not only affirmative aspects of the queer experience but also talking about what in the LGBTI community is problematic.” He gives an example: serophobia. That is, the rejection of people living with HIV. “It is something that is not discussed so much. There’s a very conservative thing there. It’s like we’re all delighted and very content, but if you’re living with HIV, tell me you’re living with HIV to see if I can interact with you.”

In the drawings and canvases that he has been producing for five years around the school universe, Marín focuses on complex and ambivalent aspects of students’ lives: the learning of gender roles, the emergence of desire, the tension of games that sometimes turn violent. We are far from a romanticized image of childhood: Marín uses the plastic resources of school life (the aesthetics of the march, the design of the uniform) to deconstruct the official educational discourse, giving rise to uncomfortable questions.

“Now I understand that being a queer, brown, precarious person in many aspects does not have much to do with art. Art is for people with a lot of privileges. I see what I do as a work of resistance, where you have to lessen the sadness in which capitalism has enveloped us to feel like taking a paintbrush and making a mixture and creating an image like a bomb.”

How do you define your proposal?


I am still searching. But what I’m interested in approaching at the moment is nationalism from a queer angle. I think that the reflection on queer or gay has tended to focus on the exploration of gender, sexuality, on the representation of diversity, but we have left aside other variables. Thus we lose sight, for example, that even as queers, within dissent, we do not cease to have conservative references or gestures: we are also nationalists without realizing it because we live in a society in which these dynamics exist.

 To give a slightly crude example, I think of Drag Race, the Netflix show where drag queens compete. Even such a show has very marked nationalist aspects that, within queer theories or queer discussions, we don’t take into account. No matter how evident or aesthetic it may be, nationalism somehow goes unnoticed. 

 That’s what I focus on in my most recent works. And that is why it is difficult for them to be exhibited in this month when queer is so fashionable. In these works, unlike my previous production, no queers or lesbians are kissing. According to the perception of curators, other artists, of galleries, what I do is something else. It has nothing to do with it anymore.

This new direction is linked to the appearance of the figure of the scholar in your work.

 It resulted from a transitional stage in which I questioned many things. I started the project in 2017 with some drawings of plant dissections. The theme of opening things, of seeing what’s inside and how they work, interests me. That took on another meaning when I read a book by Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities. Anderson talks about how the sense of belonging to a community is constructed and, by extension, how nationalism operates. It turns us into static subjects: why think, why go out, better to stay within our territory and cultivate symbols that make us always return to that community to which we belong. 

 I think of very typical Mexican songs. There is one that says: “México dear and beautiful if I die far from you, let them say that I am asleep and bring me here.” This nationalism permeates music, poetry, and also, of course, school education. The classroom interests me then as a disciplinary mechanism for students, not only on a corporal level but also on other less perceptible levels. So I began to make a series of drawings and works related to schools. First, with images of children with their faces blurred, then with other elements that are repeated: children marching rigidly, games with the school uniform that is so emblematic of each government. 


Why do the faces appear in the picture?

 Some plates of the human figure are sold in Mexico, of the heart, the ear, the eye, and the nervous system. In some of the images in this series, I used the dissection of a rabbit, which I superimposed on the children’s faces. I did this because I didn’t want to show such specific faces. The problem is that people look for a resemblance when they see faces. What I was interested in, instead, is that in those faceless faces, people could see themselves reflected and say, “I was there too.”

You have a project called Estética unisex: encarnaciones capilares. You told me before starting the interview that you have shown it to your students. What were their reactions? 

That project talks about how gender is constructed in a way that only allows us to see two options: a man or a woman. In this work, I take the element of hair to play with this construction of the feminine and the masculine and the idea of how men and women should have hair. People appear with their backs turned: the only thing that, at first glance, tells us something about their identity is their hair. And I play with that. I ask the children: is it a man or a woman? When they see a person with short, slightly shaved hair, they immediately say: “It’s a man.” Then I explain to them that the model is a lesbian girl who has to shave her hair for reasons of violence. Then the perspective changes, and they begin to see the haircut as a form of transgression, not only as something decorative or aesthetic but also as something political.

There is a piece that is not yet finished in this series of the schools: we see two armchairs that are joined together, and on the back, there is a sheet of the flower, which represents how the bee arrives, pollinates the flower, and fruits are obtained. I was interested in generating a homoerotic atmosphere, but in a subtle way, because it is the story of two children who go in different shifts, afternoon and morning, and who write messages to each other through the lollipops.

“I’m interested in shoes. I’m interested in the sounds you hear inside classrooms. Things that maybe have to do with a queer sensibility. I mean, who the fuck is interested in the sound in the schools? I don’t think any straight guy would be interested in those things, but I’m interested in them.”

You mentioned that in these works, you have tried to avoid straightforward representations of homosexual desire. However, that desire is present. How do you work with it in these pieces? 

 I think that pre-adolescents, or children in general, live their sexuality in a very open way today. Despite how much they are repressed, they are having erotic games all the time, which for an adult may seem morbid, but they are ways of getting to know their bodies.  

In the series of school report card interventions I did, there is an image in which two girls appear: you don’t know if they are fighting, kissing, or what is going on. But there is an erotic charge in the image. The piece’s title is Un Águila Devorando la Serpiente (An eagle devouring the snake). We returned to the theme of nationalism: I looked for a title that referred to the coat of arms of our Mexican flag, which represents the eagle devouring the snake. It also seems that there is a very erotic and romantic charge there. In this ballot, I try to do the same.

Another image develops this idea of children’s ambivalent or worrying actions: it is a sequence of fights.

Pedro Lemebel’s text inspired me: I speak for my difference. In all the images I had made up to that point, the students had no agency: they were like soldiers or machines at the service of whoever educated or molded, or guided them. Little soldiers are marching, ready to go to work for a company. In this piece, I wanted to show them agency and avoid a romanticized childhood vision. There is also violence inside schools. They are constantly attacking the weirdo, the effeminate, the masculine girl. 

This series of fights for me give them back that agency, but what I show is still problematic. I remember recently a news story of an event in the north of the country, of two girls who got into a fight coming out of school. One hit the other in the head with a horseshoe and killed her. There are a lot of cases of this type of violence where the kids arrive at the hospitals. Maybe we don’t have the same gun problem as the United States, but the situation is still extremely worrying.

What stage are you at in your research?

I want to continue exploring nationalism: how far this critique can take me and how the intersectionalities of gender, race, and class can feed this project. Now I’m working with the theme of uniforms: I’m interested in the visual level and the fabrics and how they have been changing. There is a social class issue there. Some kids must buy extremely large uniforms to last the school year—the same with shoes. I am interested in shoes; I am interested in the sounds that are heard inside the classrooms. Things that maybe have to do also, finally, with a queer sensibility. I mean, who the fuck is interested in sound in schools? I don’t think any straight guy would be interested in those things, but I am.

I sense that there must be an autobiographical charge, too, in these images: you are a teacher; you have been a student, of course. How do you remember that experience?


My experience as a teacher has been less straightforward than I expected. I arrived as the most open teacher, in the sense of “don’t ask me for permission to go to the bathroom”: don’t ask me for permission for anything. But, being a large group -there are 41 boys and girls in the first, second, and third year of high school-it gets complicated. I am in charge of a painting workshop: the idea is to be open, have game dynamics, and explore art from different approaches. But I found that the schoolchildren have internalized the discipline. They can’t get rid of it. They need, to some extent, to receive orders and have permission. Now we have adjusted well, they have understood my way of working, and I have also understood their work processes.

My interest in school education goes back much further. It is a subject that I have always considered because the publishing house where I worked for many years specializes in books for upper-secondary education and high schools. So, as I was designing, I was reading and remembering the books I used when I went to school.

How did you make the leap from editorial design to painting?

As I said, when I left university, I worked for a long time in editorial design. I still do editorial design. It’s something that interests me. But at one point, I collapsed. The schedules we had were too overwhelming. Sometimes my classmates and I would sleep with the mouse in our hands in front of the screen because they wouldn’t let us leave. They would tell us, “Finish your blocks, and you can leave.”

There came a point when, looking at my colleagues, I realized: “I don’t want to end up like this. I want to avoid ending up in this publishing house and being here no longer for pleasure but because I have to pay the debts, and the system has absorbed me so much that I can no longer move from here. I quit and immediately started taking painting workshops. That’s how I found a space in this discipline that, in the beginning, I romanticized a lot: I thought it was about being inspired and then painting, and that’s it. But it wasn’t. 

Now I understand that being a queer, brown, precarious person in many aspects has not much to do with art. Art is for people with a lot of privileges. Now I see what I do as a work of resistance, as a work where you have to lessen the sadness in which capitalism has enveloped us to feel like taking a brush and making a mixture and creating an image that is like a bomb: something that generates curiosity in someone else—or at least a question in the head.

  /  LGBTIQ  /  Mexico  /  queer  /  school
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