Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Urban Santo and His Imaginaire

The Virgin of Guadalupe in a market´s facade. Picture by Myriam Mahiques

A few days ago, I came across with a book I bought for my son, Aesop´s Fables. To tell you the truth, this is not the type of book he has the habit to read, but I looked at it carefully, it is a nice hard cover edition, it says ¨a facsimile of the 1912 edition. Avenel books, New York¨. It contains old beautiful drawings, and I was tempted to read it again, though I´d read it in Spanish when I was a teenager. I think many books must be read again in our life, as long as we change our points of view along the years. One of the fables, reminded me of the commercialization of religious images in California and Mexico. Here it is “The Image Seller” by Aesop:
“A certain man made a wooden Image of Mercury, and exposed it for sale in the market. As no one offered to buy it, however, he thought he would try to attract a purchaser by proclaiming the virtues of the Image. So he cried up and down in the market, “A god for sale! A god for sale! One who’ll bring you luck and keep you lucky!” . Presently, one of the bystanders stopped him and said, “If your god is all you make him out to be, how is it you don’t keep him and make the most of him yourself?” “ I’ll tell you why”, replied he; he brings gain, it is true, but he takes his time about it; whereas I want money at once.” (p. 88)

A Saint statue in a public set back. Picture by Myriam Mahiques

A simple ¨pesebre¨ in the front yard of a house, in Los Angeles. Picture by Myriam Mahiques

In the colonial times, Indians convinced themselves that the Christian images could be effective to fulfill their expectations. Otherwise, threats of physical cruelty were directed to the image; to break them was a natural reaction of a society that attributed importance to them. Other punishments would be insults, whipping, scratching, burning with candles, piercing and even worst. This receptivity was a kind of strategy of appropriation.
“Images and objects for everyday use became superimposed and indistinguishable: a Spanish soldier from New Mexico sported a painting of the Virgin on his horse’s saddle blanket (1962). Snuffboxes, fans, watches decorated with scenes of the Passion of Christ; stockings, slips with St. Anthony’s effigy; buttons featuring Christ on the Crucifix, the Virgin and St. John; embroidery with the image of the Virgin; all these objects proliferated throughout colonial society. Bread, cookies, and countless sweets were decorated with the sign of the cross or a saint’s face. The fashion became so popular that the Church tried to curb it. Ordinary uses of the image mixed commercial and religious registers, just as they already blended decoration, elegance, greed and piety. We have seen how merchants used to offer their clients a little pious image, something to attract or keep the more modest buyers”. (Serge Gruzinski. Images at War. Mexico from Columbus to Blade Runner. (1492-2019). Page 163. Duke University Press. 2001)

Children clothes with the Virgin image. Internet download
Jesuschrist´s cruxifiction bracelet. Internet download.

Now we see an evolution of the relationship to the image that involves commerce and urban manifestations. As before, images are displayed in all kind of objects and are sold in markets but they are also sold on line and TV gains momentum with religious massive events. The Virgin image –the favorite one- is seen on candles, on lamps, on cups, on bracelets, etc. But also on the buildings facades, small statues are exposed on gardens, together with saints’. Though there’s an evolution in the manifestation, the spirit is always the same.

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