“Woman with scorpions”

Francisco Toledo

Francisco Benjamín López Toledo was born in Juchitán, Oaxaca (Mexico), in 1940. A multi-faceted artist, he dedicates his life and work to promoting and disseminating the culture and arts of his home state of Oaxaca.

As an independent artist, he did not get involved in the nationalist themes represented by the Mexican School. His work is based on the Zapotec tradition, from which he borrows themes and techniques, although he is also strongly and directly influenced by the contemporary language of artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet and Antonio Tapiés.

Whether paintings or prints, weavings and ceramics, his works present a striking use of colour. He includes textures and materials to offer an aesthetic that falls somewhere between innovation and tradition, creating a fantastic world of his own with recurring themes and iconography. Therefore, the relationships of his work with the earth, air, and hybrid and fantastic insects and semi-human beings, arranged in space without order or rules, are constant features in his representations.

Work of art

Woman with Scorpions represents an anthropomorphic being with a feminine body and forms, with scorpion tails emerging from her head and limbs. Two common themes in Toledo’s work come together here: the depiction of local insects and animals, and the other, the representation of imaginary, hybrid beings, a succession of metamorphic and analogue images that could well be typical of surrealism.

Toledo creates his own mythological universe, full of these beings from his own particular bestiary, accompanied by references to both the modern day and pre-Columbian culture.


A work of art, multiple meanings

The representation of concentric rectangular forms, one inside another, that we find in this work can be perceived with a sense of relief or of depth, although they are represented on a flat surface without the slightest hint of perspective. The connotations of this perception or interpretation can vary hugely. They could, for example, be Aztec pyramids seen from above, or represent a large and vertiginous black hole. Whatever the perspective from which we wish to look at it, we cannot ignore the fact that the clothes worn by the scorpion-woman also have these rectangles printed on them, which makes her turn into part of the landscape. The reference to mythology and local factors in this individual makes us lean more towards the first reading; however, the symbology does not end here.

The representation of the woman, semi-human or otherwise, refers to femininity, to desire, a theme that is also typical in Toledo’s work, as well as to motherhood and the origin of the world. Specifically, one of the symbolic readings of the scorpions is sexual desire, but they are also a symbol of death.

This entire framework of multiple readings reveals to us the symbolic complexity and breadth found in this and the other works by Toledo, created from deep-down within a set of references and influences, current and from the past, from mythology and reality.