For all illustrations used to describe the book: © Pieter Hugo, courtesy PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne. Out of respect for the work of Gallery Priska Pasquer, Cologne, I have mostly been limited to illustrations of the book, with the exception of the first two pictures, 'Burning Bush' and 'Black Friday'. (...)
Personal statement by the photographer Pieter HUGO
'Finding a home for your demons
I first came to Mexico at the invitation of Francisco Berzunza. He was curating an exhibition of South African art at a museum in Oaxaca and wanted me to make new work for the show. The exhibition was titled Hacer Noche (‘Crossing Night’) and dealt with the liminal space after death. His only brief to me was that the work be about sex and mortality.
What started as an open assignment quickly became an obsession, leading to four trips over two years, each almost a month long. Mexico’s anarchic, visceral energy got under my skin and sucked me in.
The country has a particular ethos and aesthetic; there is an acceptance that life has no glorious victory, no happy ending. Humour, ritual, a strong sense of community and an embrace of the inevitable make it possible to live with tragic and often unacceptable situations.
There is a very different relationship with death here to what I am used to. If one looks beyond the clichés of dancing skeletons and sugar skulls, there’s a deeply complicated connection with mortality. This necropolitical dynamic is most visible in contradictory expressions of honouring the afterlife, in the Day of the Dead celebrations and the brutal dismemberment of bodies by narco traffickers.
Alongside the flamboyance and high-pitched register of this series, there is the ordinariness of the everyday. I am drawn to the fabulousness of the banal and the banality of the exotic.
Given the disparate nature of my interests, I’ve always struggled to situate myself. One could say, albeit reductively, that my work has always been about the outsider – and in the Trump era, Mexico is definitely the outsider.
La Cucaracha', the Spanish folk song after which this work was named, is of contested origin. While its basis has remained the same, describing a cockroach that has lost a leg or two and struggles to walk, its many verses have been improvised according to the needs of the moment. Historians have traced the song as far back as the early 1800s, yet it is widely accepted that it gained prominence during the Mexican Revolution when rebel and government forces alike invented lyrics that commented on major political figures, the events of the war and its effects on civilians. Contemporary versions have referenced marijuana use and been performed by Looney Tunes character Speedy Gonzales.
'The jingle-like refrain, combining humour and derogation, is tied deeply to the specific geopolitical, historical and pop-cultural expression of Mexico – a place where hyperviolence, the joyful treatment of death, extreme machismo, expanded viewpoints on gender, dogmatic Catholicism, a reverence for the supernatural, cyclic autocracies, the provision of equitable social housing, chronic desperation and a communal outlook have all somehow found a way to coexist." (Pieter HUGO, July 2019)
"With his brand new photo book 'La Cucaracha' South African photographer Pieter Hugo, theonce again managed an impressive social portrait in which he was more interested in people than Mexico's architecture or economy.
In any case, the great strength lies in the portraits by Pieter hUGO, which have made him one of the best photographers of the time. The photo album 'The Hyena & other Men', released by Prestel in 2007, had several editions.
Even in 'La Cucaracha' people are so present, the scenes sometimes as unusual as natural, that his pictures remain long after the book is remembered. This was already happening in 'The Hyena and other Men', 'Nollywood' and 'Permanent Error'. His last release, the quiet and nevertheless impressive photobook '1994', seems like a break from this new big hit in retrospect.
Also great is the production of the large format photo book, which fits edgewise in no standard shelf: his burgundy cover without dust jacket is structured, the title set vertically in the center in golden capital letters. A gold cut completes the picture of a classically designed photo title. In the inner part, two English-language texts in unusually large font are given again.
The first text describes the Mexican soul, the second text is dedicated to HUGO's approach. Both texts are very worth reading and form a successful introduction to the edited by Pieter Hugo self-image part. There are all color photographs reproduced on the right side, left you will find - in the middle and in the usual font size - additional information on the image: title, place, year.
The portraits, partly also full-body portraits, need their generously granted space to portray the diverse character of the people. Pieter HUGO invents exciting scenes, which also develop a special power through their colorfulness. In this way, the photographer also surprises the savvy viewer.
That 'La Cucaracha' sounds like a Mexican publication in its entirety is also down to the experienced creative director, Ramón Reverté, who has made content and exterior form a self-contained unit." (© Richard G. SPORLEDER)
- Pieter HUGO
- Mario Bellatin, Ashraf Jamal
- Book design
- Joseph BURRIN
- HC (no dust jacket, as issued), 31 x 35 x 2 cm., 130 pp., color ills.
- RM Editorial, Mexico/Spain