Milagreros: contemporary baroque devotion

Mauricio Toro Goya's photobook shows the relationship between religion, mass culture and politics in Latin America.

Image of Milagreros, a photobook by Mauricio Toro Goya.

Do you believe in miracles? I don’t but I am always trying to imagine how would they be. Not the actual act of faith but the representation of them, how would we see them if they happened in front of our eyes?. Those miracles would be different depending on where you are born, different Gods, different events, but still miracles.

One of the first references that came to my mind before I started reading this book was Life of Brian, particularly the sequence when Brian refused his new status of Messiahs inside of a hole in front of the crowd.

‘’Master, Give us a sign’’ ‘’To follow you, people have walked many miles and they weirdly have not eaten anything for three days’’,

and Brian said: ‘’That’s not my problem!’’

and the crowd replied: ‘’There is no food in this mountain’’

and Brian responded: ‘’what about the Junipers over there?’’

Everyone suddenly noticed there was a tree right next to them and ran towards it as it was the most delicious food ever created. Terry Gilliam represented the idea of miracles as the most mundane event or act. He shows us that miracles are everywhere, we just need to believe in them, believe in what we are looking at is the result of a miracle.

When I first saw the cover of Milagreros, a photobook by the Chilean artist, Mauricio Toro Goya, I was getting prepared to believe whatever I was going to see. In this work, Mauricio plunges his head into the Latin-American religious world with an irreverent diving suit costume. His political approach is sustained with an incredible understanding of baroque art and its symbolic devotional images.

The book is composed of eleven hand-painted ambrotypes put together in a concertina book structure. Protected with a hard cover made with synthetic leather and red velvet cloth with an Eye of Providence emblem and the title embossed with silver foil. The images included in this work were produced in Chile and Mexico.

A book with eleven images? How brave? Yes and that’s because each of Mauricio’s images is a world on its own. These very detailed devotional images are part of a baroque’s delirium where chaos and disorder are important elements in the events staged. Mauricio uses ex-vote as a primary source of inspiration. An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or to a divinity. It is given in fulfillment of a vow or in gratitude or devotion. Every picture comes with a little fold out text where we read the name of the God, the title of the image and a quote from different penitents claiming miracles, probably collected by Mauricio’s field research. It’s unavoidable to look at Mauricio’s images and not hear the echoes from Rubens ,Caravaggio or Bach’s Brandenburg concerts. Of course, my imaginary is filled with Catholic representations but Mauricio’s images are unique and different. Milagreros is contextualised in Latin America using religious, popular and political elements and there are merged in contemporary culture.

Adelita, I prefer the enemy. Image from the book Milagreros. © Mauricio Toro Goya

In Milagreros there is not one narrative but many. We see historical characters mixed up with popular culture symbols and objects as well as. The tension is perfectly enhanced by all the fragments in the image, which symbolically relate to each other building up the meaning helping us to understand the scene. This is not a book to flip through the pages, instead you just need to stop and look at them individually to carefully appreciate the complexity of it. It’s exhausting and confusing but at the same it is powerful and direct. Mauricio uses one of the first photography processes to create a contemporary dialogue. He sometimes recurs to parody in order to question the socio-political models implemented in different areas in Latin America.

It seems the book is sold-out but if you have the opportunity to find a copy, this book won’t disappoint you. It is something different, something made with fresh eyes and a very creative mind.

See a video of the book HERE

Visit Mauricio Toro Goya PHmuseum profile here.

Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organization based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events, workshops and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab co-organises Photobook Bristol, a festival for photobooks in Bristol.

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