Slide Show: Venezuelan Cartoonist Pedro León Zapata
Pedro León Zapata isn’t afraid to pick fights —even if his opponent is Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s authoritarian President. The Caracas-based artist, winner of the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas, has been a regular contributor to the popular Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional for nearly 50 years through his column, “Zapatazos.”
Interviewed by Elizabeth Farnsworth on PBS in 2002, he said, “How can you explain what is happening in Venezuela if even we Venezuelans can’t understand it? What is happening in Venezuela doesn’t have a logical explanation… In astronomical terms, El Comandante Chávez is a black hole… For me, cartoons are the perfect form for expressing fully all that happens to me inside as a consequence of what is going on outside.” Farnsworth describes Zapata as “a man with a strong appreciation for black humor and the absurd.”
In the ’40s, Zapata moved to Mexico to study with the muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Over the many years since his return to Venezuela, he has become a nationally known political gadfly and unique artist—painter, muralist, illustrator, playwright, radio host, actor, and musician—revered for both his humor and his implacable challenge to Chávez.
In 2000 there was a confrontation with the Venezuelan leader, who publicly challenged Zapata about these cartoons, asking whether he had been bribed to publish them. Zapata answered the President with another question: “Mr. Chávez, did you accept money to refer to my cartoons, thus inducing so many people to rush out and buy the newspaper?”
Zapata is featured on Chávez’s list of “counter-revolutionaries”— a collection of artists, journalists and other “public enemies” the President recommends go into self-imposed exile.
Read an interview with Pedro León Zapata and other persecuted cartoonists in Sampsonia Way.