iluikak

Mara Sanchez Renero

2016 - 2017

Veracruz, Mexico

The sierra de Zongolica (derived from the nahuatl place name ‘Tzon-coliuh-can’ meaning “Place of the tangled heads”), Veracruz, is located 40 kilometers from Orizaba extending 1,000 square kilometers. An expanse that predominantly remained isolated until the middle of the 20th century, contributing to the conservation of it’s people's ancestral traditions and customs including their Nahuatl language in different dialect variants.

Even after establishing lines of communication, Zongolica continues to be a region of difficult access where some communities can only be reached by foot. Its complex geography protects a cultural treasure, now syncretic, that is sheltered by its inhabitants and that is configured by its close relation with nature, that they observe, venerate and listen.

Between 300 and 1,400 meters above sea level, distinct communities populate the region, where nature imposes and determines daily life in which the worship of maize, the sun, the moon, the water, the earth, the wind, the hills, and life cycles reign over economic activities (primarily agricultural) and their view of the world around them.

My professional work brought me to Zongolica to survey the place, one of the five poorest municipalities of the country. In that first trip, I discovered the contrast that exists between the economic precariousness of its inhabitants and the cultural and natural richness of the area. The scenarios frozen in time that are discovered as a threshold between past and present gave rise to Iluikak, meaning “in the sky” in Nuahatl, a photographic project that reveals a natural and cultural beauty protected by the bowels of the mountains.

Far removed from conventional forms of anthropological photography of indigenous Mexican communities and the stereotypes of representation, the images produced manifest a present as current as it is timeless through a new photographic treatment, in which the portrait is constructed as allegorical scenes of the current Nahua identity. Stemming from a reinterpretation of the inhabitants and the territory, the compositions are created through a planning process in which place, subject, and time of the day are staged as an installation within the scene, so that each element forms a symbolic part of the narrative and aesthetic construction.

The light as a narrative element, natural as well as artificial, play a fundamental role not only permitting the construction of the photographic image, but bringing visibility to Zongolica.

Iluikak is an attempt to breach convention of an assumed identity and explore, through a present and constructed atmosphere, some specific faces of the Sierra.

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