Schleifmühlgasse 18 - 1040 Vienna 
+43-699-19207778 -

27.7. - 5.9.2015
Presentation: Monday, 27th July, 6 pm
WHERE: UNTERER STOCK Galerie Michaela Stock, Schleifmühlgasse 18, 1040 Vienna
Video: Chiara Zenzani (I) | El tigre y el sombrero
Sombrero, Los Tigres Del Norte


Los Tigres del Norte have achieved worldwide success by becoming the leading musical storytellers for multiple generations of Latin immigrants.

The group has taken the century old tradition of 'corrido' (story, song, celebrating the enduring pursuit of truth, justice and opportunity, whether by heroes or ordinary folk) as an art form. They've made it their own powerful vehicle to express not only the plight and adventures of many who have come to this country from different parts of the world seeking a better life for their families, but also to bring attention to the many challenges faced by working people.

The godfathers of the Norteño genre have towered in the realm of Latin music, taking the polka rooted Norteño sound and mixing it with true tales of social injustices and current events. Their unique lyrics of social conscience have endeared them to millions of people who see in them a reflection of their past, present and future. Thus their fans have affectionately nicknamed them "Los Idolos Del Pueblo", (Idols of the town) for their sincerity and humbleness.

A career span of more than three decades, millions of records sold, extensive concert tours throughout the United States, Mexico, Latin America, Europe and Asia, have made Los Tigres Del Norte international legends.Legendary is the hat of the bandleader Jorge Hernández.The sombrero can be seen as a national identification symbol and demonstrated solidarity, art and power.

For the first time this legendary Sombrero, which was until now in the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, will be shown in Europe - in Vienna,  together with the performance video "El tigre y el sombrero" by Chiara Zenzani.

„A hat tells you who you are and where you are going to".
Jorge Hernández

We like to say thank you to all cooperation-partners: Jorge Hernández, Los Tigres del Norte, Oscar Sánchez und der Botschaft von Mexiko.


A tiger's hat, contraband and betrayal...

Notes on the exhibition "Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" by Chiara Zenzani.
August – September 2015, Michaela Stock Gallery, Vienna
Text by Gerardo Montes de Oca Valadez

Si, si, si, were the first words of an affirmative message full of hope addressed not only to Mexicans but also Latin American migrants in Mexico and in the USA –their people. It was an invitation to start a special relationship and complicity that was meant to last as long as necessary. This bond and dialogue seems to have been initiated in 1971 with the first track of their first official album Cuquita: that is why I'm here with all my inspiration, and why I dedicate my song to all Mexicans... and why I dedicate my song to all Colombians... (Si, si, si...). A few years later the band reached sudden fame and success in both sides of the border when they released Contrabando y Traición (Contraband and betrayal) in 1974, containing the homonymous sound track better known as Camelia La Tejana. It is the love story of a couple of drug-traffickers: Emilio Varela and Camelia La Tejana. After smuggling a load of marihuana from Tijuana to Los Angeles, Emilio ends the emotional and criminal relationship to then meet her real love in San Francisco. Camelia feels betrayed, shots him dead and escapes with the booty. The moral of the story is forceful: la traición y el contrabando son cosas incompartidas (betrayal and contraband are unmatched things). This song became iconic and together with the coming albums Los Tigres del Norte are since then probably the most influential band of the renewed corridos and the now transnational style narcocorridos. Here is where the exhibition "Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" brings us to a music genre that narrates some of the darkest threads of Mexican history stained with extreme forms of violence, corruption and impunity, and that finds its peak in Mexico's current political, economic and humanitarian crisis.

Michaela Stock Gallery is showing a joint installation that deals with Mexican popular culture, migration, power symbols, identity and collective affectivity. At first glance the exhibition is about the success of a legendary band from the North of Mexico, the admiration and loyalty of millions of fans both in Latin America and in the USA. Nevertheless, such success has less to do with the music industry itself than with a sympathetic capacity to articulate the discontents and symbolic elements of a society that is experiencing perhaps its worst historical moment and where death, distrust and fear permeates everyday life, politics and economy 2.
The exhibition "Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" is placed in the cold and dark gallery's basement. The feelings are awaiting, the music as well. The shift of ground is not only physical –one is entering a complex realm of intensities. Down there the spectator is before a black tejana –Mexican ranger felt hat– installed by Vienna-based artist and producer Oscar Sánchez (MX). It is lit by a small spotlight and displayed on a white pedestal in the middle of the large basement. The Sombrero belongs to Jorge Hernández, leading voice and accordionist of the legendary and numerous award-winning band Los Tigres del Norte, a conjunto norteño –northern Mexican traditional band– original from a very poor and small village located in the desert of Sinaloa in North of Mexico, a region with a long history of narcotráfico –drug trafficking. The sombrero came directly from the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles where it is displayed as part of their collection. Chiara Zenzani's (IT) video and sound installation El Tigre y el Sombrero is projected at the end of the tunnel. As a whole, the formal and symbolic elements of the installation "Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" work interestingly well in the basement's physical qualities, triggering strange sensations in the spectator as if an apparition were taking place. The two pieces interplay powerfully, and as soon as the spectator comes into the scene –because this is a living scene despite its partly apparent stillness– certain intensities are called upon. A collective concert of shared experiences, hopes, testimonies and subaltern affectivity is being performed.

Zenzani's video and Sánchez' ready-made have an ethnographic approach that intercross ethnomusicology, visual anthropology and contemporary art. Zenzani's video lasts for a bit more than 3 minutes. It shows Jorge Hernández checking his look in front of a line of dressing room mirrors framed by those classic light bulbs in a big and elegant dressing room. Jorge is getting ready before starting a concert with the rest of Los Tigres and, this time, with a symphonic orchestra in a big venue somewhere in Mexico. Next to him is Oscar Sánchez, escorting him and silently holding the black sombrero in one hand at shoulder hight, showing much care and evident respect. Nobody is allowed to touch the hat except Jorge himself and whoever is assisting him before the concert. It has become a precious object. After fixing the last details of his norteño outfit, Jorge and Oscar walk to the backstage of the big theater. We can hear the symphonic musicians tuning their instruments, the roar and expectation of the audience. Jorge warms up his fingers playing his beautiful accordion, the one that has a tiger's head on its bellows. Zenzani manages to register a sort of ritual, an introspective and enigmatic moment of a person who knows why his music is so appreciated. The entire band enters the stage in front of a massive audience that welcomes Los Tigres del Norte with an intense ovation. The concert starts and the emotions flow. Los Tigres know who they are and why. Jorge's leadership combines humbleness and a solid self-confidence. His hat has become a distinctive garment within the band's constellation. It is a symbol of power but also of mutual respect, recognition and loyalty between Jorge –and the entire band– and the public.

For Jorge "A hat tells you who you are and where you are going to", expressing the decisiveness to embrace a historical awareness of a common experience of marginalization and exploitation, a self-definition act as a form of protest and resistance. This is a big part of what Los Tigres perform and create through their lyrics and music, commonplace for opposition and resistance in the symbolic realm, and following Catherine Héau-Lambert, "that is why the threat of spreading and singing narcocorridos, not because its apology of violence and crime or because of its invitation to drug consumption as the groups advocated for the prohibition of narcocorridos, but because the demystification and downgrading of the regime, since it shakes the foundations and legitimacy of the authorities (contradicted by the high levels of corruption among politicians) and its armed wing (police and army which keep corruption and do violence)"3 . Nevertheless such resistance does not imply a revolutionary gesture, but rather the reinforcement of a narcoculture and narcopower.

Zenzani, born in Ravenna, has been working mainly with performance using her own body interacting with the audience as means to provoke open and disruptive social relations beyond given norms and fixed forms of representation. Her interest in Mexico started when she worked in the Mexican Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale, where she met Mexican artist Teresa Margolles (1963, Sinaloa). Margolles has been working extensively on the intersections between body, violence, death, economics and politics in society for more than two decades already. Her solo show "What else could we talk about?", curated by Cuautémoc Medina, involved "a subtle and moving chronicle of the pervasive economy of death that plagues the north of Mexico" . This encounter had an evident effect in Zenzani's El Tigre y el Sombrero years later. In the meantime Zenzani went to Mexico for an artistic residency, learning firsthand some of the complexities of that country. It is in this video and sound installation where her interest in Mexico finds a particular focus and a change in her artistic approach takes place. With El Tigre y el Sombrero she switches from one-to-one or one-to-few interactions, like in her previous performances, to masses. Taking an anthropological stand and certain participant-observer position, she moves over from her own body as performative referential and relational element to the collective body in a broader cultural context. Instead of provoking new experiences and relations herself, she now documents and witness a multitudinous phenomena where many voices and biographies meet.

For his part, Sánchez interplays this time as an ethnographer, performer, producer and installation artist. Besides the administrative procedures that his ready-made work implied, his participation involves not only knowledge of popular Mexican culture, but more particularly a sensitive comprehension of Los Tigres' lyrics and what this band represents for millions of Mexicans and latino migrants. Sánchez places Jorge's Sombrero as a symbol of identification, solidarity, popular culture and power. For him, it represents the voice of millions of not only Mexican but also Latin American minorities, in particular the many that either emigrate seeking after the so called American dream, or desperately running away from poverty, marginalization and violence. Los Tigres became "their chroniclers, spokesmen for a community that remains largely voiceless in Mexico and in the U.S."5 . Interestingly, Sánchez sees a link between the Sombrero from the Grammy Museum Collection in L.A. with the Penacho of Moctezuma in the Weltmuseum in Vienna. The connection is indeed interesting and almost unavoidable in the context of Vienna: both are symbols of Mexican identity and relate to experiences of violence and dispossession, nevertheless very different both in historical terms and cultural recognition. The Penacho's journey started in an encounter of colonization and continued as a historical booty up until today6 . It is an object and symbol officially recognized by the Mexican State that does not represent a threat to the its legitimacy. Jorge's Sombrero on the other hand relates to the tradition of corridos and narcocorridos that, as stated above, denounce and defy the State and its injustices. It represents a counter-cultural manifestation that places music in the symbolic realm of social power struggles between drug cartels, a fractured society and a highly disputed Government.

Los Tigres' life originated in a context of poverty, migration, drug trafficking, violence and corruption. Jorge was only 14 years old in 1968 when together with his brothers formed the band to play in local and regional parties. Their work as musicians brought them to perform in the towns near the Mexico – USA border, and then to the USA where they started to record. Rumor says that while crossing to the USA an immigration officer asked the teenagers their artistic name which they did not know yet. Due to their young age the officer called them little tigers, but because one day they would grow up he then called them Los Tigres del Norte. Their professional career started during the times of the Mexican Dirty War , and they have sensitively witnessed their social, economic and political context in Mexico and USA since then. This can be found in their entire discography, where they inform and comment on social events and debates through their songs. In their most recent albums they do not only sing about love, migration and drug-traffickers, but more recently also about topics like LGBT relations, gender equality and rights, politics and corruption, immigrant's rights and the War on drugs.

Los Tigres draw upon the tradition of corridos, a genre that emerged in the eighteenth century and became quite popular in the turn of the nineteenth century, acquiring special subversive political significance during the Mexican revolution because of their celebration of revolutionaries and bandits that confronted the State but also the American border agents. Corridos are songs that tell about history, migration, oppression, political and social events and heroes. Narcocorrido is a sub-genre that sings about drug traffickers or narcotraficántes' adventures, reason why they are prohibited in most parts of Mexico. According to Catherine Héau-Lambert the great reception of narcocorridos in the general public and particularly in the large marginalized young sectors responds to a relative cultural continuity with traditional corridos and, most of all, for their function as "hidden transcripts" that allows to express social discontent and the situation of marginalization8 . This great reception works due both to cultural elements -the figure of the valiente or courageous man overlapping with the rebellious part of a criminal as oppositional to the order- and to a social context of extreme poverty and injustice. Narcocorridos give a space for a sort of positive recognition of their condition and identity and reinforces the fantasy of a victory over the forces of law and order. In such social context of cyclic institutional and direct violence, violence and justice are now given disputable and terrible conflictive meanings. It has been already years since crime, in many forms, has spread and multiplied all over the territory and the everyday life in Mexico to the point that that everyone today is a potential victim and, as Estelle Tarica argues, "positing that all citizens are or can be victims, it suggests a parallel, if not an outright identity, between what it means to be a victim and what it means to be a citizen, between speaking as a victim and speaking as a citizen"9 .

From my point of view this is the pivotal theme of the exhibition, achieved in a very subtle and firm way. Michaela Stock thinks of the installation as a "silent protest", she has sensitively understood the political and social relevance and significance of Sánchez' and Zenzani's collaboration. Having chosen the basement was very important, its darkness and emptiness introduces us into Los Tigre's concert (video) in a cinematic and somehow embodied way. At the same time, and most probably quite strangely for non Mexicans or Latin Americans, together with this context of music and celebration, it triggers strange images of secrecy, corrupt arrangements, crime, kidnapping, systematic torture, rape, enforced disappearances and mass graves. Such is part of the collective imaginary of Mexicans today. Since the US-led Drug on War started in 2006 the violence has grown exponentially, leaving more than 160,000 people killed in the last 9 years, almost 25,000 people missing (today 1 person goes missing every two hours) and an endless number of mass graves found every day10 .

We are talking about the intersections of biopolitics, necropolitics and the so called narcopolitics/narco-State, where death has much more value than life (if it has any left). Violence and crime have been destroying the social tissue and at the same time become a form of response and survival for many. Much of the passion found in the massive reception of narcocorridos is fed by this proximity with death "as an immanent experience that resonates through corridos' peculiar aesthetics" as Hermann Herlinhaus analyses, "we are dealing with a participatory awareness of death as a form of resistance to violence from a point of view of multiple affectedness. Herein lies the paradox of Los Tigres' music: it relates how violent death takes place on a daily basis (...) but it enacts a language whose affective assumption is the reassurance of life (...). And there may be a point at which these corridos can teach us more about life and violence today than those moral codes or legalists claims whose pretension is to hypocritically hold violence at bay "12.

"Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" takes a subtle look at Los Tigres del Norte and an audience –society at large– that deals with direct and institutional violence in different conflictive and disputable ways. In such war and current crisis of democracy and rule of law13 certain social responses take place and challenge the notions of resistance, solidarity and justice. At the same time the limits of performativity and testimony, spectatorship and attestation are put into question and demand new forms of solidarity and resistance as well as modes of making politics that vindicates life's value. A hat tells you who you are and where you are going to, Jorge insists. Perhaps this is what the hat's call is for, for a whole rethinking of who we are and where we are going to. Nevertheless the how and with whom needs to be addressed as well. Meanwhile Los Tigres have already told the moral of this story, betrayal and contraband are unmatched things.


1 Poniatowska: México está atravesando su peor momento, El Universal, 20 May 2015.
México nunca estuvo peor y el presidente parece, vivr en otro planeta: Lorenzo Meyer, Sin Embargo, 6 June 2015.
2 Drug cartels' financial resources represent 40% of the natoinal gross domestic product. See Salvador Medina, Neoliberalismo mexicano: ambiente perfecto para el narco, Revista Nexos, Blog de la redacción. Accessed 13 August 2015.3
3 Liberal Translation: Catherine Héau-Lambert, El narcocorrido mexicano: ¿la violencia como discurso identitario? Sociedad y Discurso, número 26, 155-178, Universidad de Aalborg. Accessed 20 August 2015. p. 174
5 Sam Quinones, quoted by Hermann Herlinhaus in Narcocorridos: An Ethical reading of Musical Diegesis". Trans, Revista Transcultural de Música, 10 (2006). Accessed 21 August 2015.
6 For an informed update of the Penacho's situation today, Mexican antropologist based in Vienna Jesús Rivero published last year an article in his blog.
7 Sylvia Karl, Missing in Mexico: Denied victims, neglected stories. Culture & History Digital Jounral. 3(2): e018. Accessed 11 June 2015.
8Catherine Héau-Lambert, El narcocorrido mexicano: ¿la violencia como discurso identitario? Sociedad y Discurso, número 26, 155-178, Universidad de Aalborg. Accessed 20 August 2015.
9Estelle Tarica, Victims and Counter-Victims in Contemporary Mexico", Política Común Jounrnal, Volume 7 2015. Accessed 16 July 2015.
10 Only a few days ago a "mega-mass grave" was found by an NGO with more than 31,000 fragments of human remains, most probably vistims of organized crime.
11 Hermann Herlinhaus in Narcocorridos: An Ethical reading of Musical Diegesis". Trans, Revista Transcultural de Música, 10 (2006). Accessed 21 August 2015.
12 Idem
13 Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Democracy, Rule of Law, a "Loving Republic", and the Impossibility of the Political in Mexico. Política Común Jounrnal, Volume 7, 2015. Accessed 13 September 2015.

A tiger's hat, contraband and betrayal...

Notes on the exhibition "Sombrero | Los Tigres del Norte" by Chiara Zenzani | Text by Gerardo Montes de Oca Valadez


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