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Concordia ‘helped define me as an artist and openly gay man’

Grad David Jonathan Romero’s affinity for the monarch butterfly inspires his art and conservation work
September 8, 2020
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By Richard Burnett, BA 88

David Jonathan Romero, BFA 09 David Jonathan Romero, BFA 09

Known as Lord Mariposa, or Monsieur Butterfly, Mexican-Canadian artist David Jonathan Romero, BFA 09, migrates seasonally between Canada and his native Mexico — much like the majestic monarchs that are central to his life and work.

After completing his studies in cinema and photography and exhibiting his multidisciplinary art at festivals like Montreal’s Art Souterrain, Romero returned to his home state of Michoacán with his epic installation “From Where the Butterflies Go.”

Made up of acetate butterflies that also feature prominently in Romero’s paintings and photography, “From Where the Butterflies Go” was first installed at Concordia’s FOFA Gallery before it went on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

The monarch population has declined by 90 per cent over the past 25 years. In 2015, Romero co-founded the NGO Todos Somos Mariposas (We’re All Butterflies) with his sister to help protect and promote awareness of the species.

Romero’s art and conservation work is generating a lot of attention, including a compelling CBC video in 2020. Romero recently sat down to talk about his passion for the monarch butterfly.

Where did your love for the monarch butterfly originate?

I grew up in Michoacán where monarch butterflies migrate to and from Canada. As a child I was fascinated by these beautiful creatures, but it wasn’t until a few years after I moved to Montreal, in 2001 at the age of 17, that I realized that monarch butterflies travelled all the way from there! These tiny fragile insects weigh less than one gram each but migrate about 4,500 kilometres each year. What struck me most, though, was how few people knew about this.

Then everything fell into place when I compared my own life to the monarch butterfly. Like the monarch, I would migrate to Mexico each winter. I felt like I was a human butterfly.

Is that where your nickname came from? 

Mariposa is also derogative Spanish slang for gay man or queer. So I am re-appropriating the term.

You use acetate butterflies to create installations — as well as decorate your models?

Diego ©️ David J. Romero Diego ©️ David J. Romero, Ciudad de México 2015

The butterflies are made of acetate film and are worn in my portraits of models who are usually non-binary and who pose partially or completely nude. Though their poses are passive, there is a lot of eroticism and sensuality in my portraits. My models are also migrants and nomads, like the monarch butterfly. After our sessions, the models keep the acetate butterflies, which are now on display around the world.

Tell us about your role as executive director of Todos Somos Mariposas.

Our goal is to promote and protect the monarch butterfly by raising awareness through small-scale grassroots projects, like creating spaces where people can transform themselves into butterflies in local artist workshops.

In Mexico, we also work with other NGOs to empower people who are queer, Indigenous or living with disabilities.

How did your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?

I started as an international student and finished by completing a double major in cinema and photography. I had some amazing teachers who took me under their wings. My time there helped define me as an artist and as an openly gay man. I am grateful that I spent such formative years growing up at Concordia, and in Montreal.

To learn more about David Jonathan Romero’s work, visit monsieurbutterfly.com.



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