Worked in the theatre industry for more than a decade Luis Xertu (b. 1985 in Mexico City, Mexico) is a virtuoso of picturesque theatricality who incorporates camp aesthetic in his poetic paintings with an elegant touch. Xertu's meticulous use of plants as a medium and motif in his artistic practice reveals an aesthetic of failure through the passage of time; the gradual decay of flora leads to a visual transformation where the canvas changes from lush green to autumnal hues, revolutionising the medium of painting by introducing the fourth dimension. As a Mexican diaspora residing in the Netherlands, Xertu draws mythological and spiritual references from his heritage and employs a unique artistic style of environmental romanticism to engage in gender, racial, postcolonial, and capitalist debates.


Going back to his theatre roots, Xertu stages a Shakespearean romance in For Your Love (2022) by referencing Ophelia’s death in the play Hamlet, which is praised as one of the most poetically written death scenes. The nature of Ophelia’s death has always been a debate of whether it is suicide out of grief or simply a tragic accident. Similarly, Xertu employs a dark red palette to depict the nude man’s multiple bruises on his feet, knees, and neck; this creates a dying posture that makes the viewer wonder about the uncertainty of the man’s death. Despite the subject lying on the ground with almost no signs of life creating a sense of apprehension, he raises his left arm and clinches the fist, which implies passive resistance. Connecting this imagery with the work’s title, the viewer cannot help but ponder its double entendre: Is the man desperately begging for one’s intimacy, or is it by virtue of one’s love that he succumbs into an abyss of despair? Losses and the longing for such lost objects construct queerness. The traumatic AIDS crisis in the 80s has made the queer community reject and separate from sex-positive culture and non-conforming lifestyle in favour of mainstream monogamy and other heteronormative ideologies. Meanwhile, there has been an instilled myth in the queer subconscious that effeminate gay men lack the symbolic phallus; no matter how muscular and masculine they become, they are regarded as a copy of the ‘original’ heterosexual Other. Even though the man in Xertu’s painting has ferns growing out of his body, which symbolises his drowning in a deathly past, his hand still grasps as if he is not letting go. This overwhelming melancholia is not just an attachment to the past but an internalisation of the objects that represent the painful queer historical injury; put differently, it is an anti-hero, or perhaps, an anti-climax logic of remembrance and memorialisation.


In The Tourist (2022), being undisturbed by the surrounding, the androgynous human figure with Hispanic heritage poses elegantly beside the lake among the ferns. The viewer is impelled to rethink the interlocking power dynamics of racial and gender hierarchies, particularly how Western mainstream gay and lesbian culture appropriates, exploits, and silences non-West queer voices.