Tracing and preserving the indigenous heritage
Born in Mexico in 1975 Maruch Santiz Gomez combines language and photography in her works. In her hometown, the indigenous village Romerillo, she tirelessly gathers oral traditions, which she then records in writing and illustrates with photographs. Thus she preserves customs, rites and insights from her forefathers for future generations. Moreover her subjective arrangements of images and texts create other, intercultural relationships, which lift them above the level of mere documentation and bring them near conceptual art generated in the west.
Maruch Santiz Gomez´s work in the field of photography is inseparably linked to the founding of the “Archivo Fotografico Indígena”: In 1992 the American photographer Cariote Duarte launched an unusual project in San Cristobal de las Casas in the state Chiapas in the south of Mexico. About a third of the state´s 3.5 million inhabitants are descended from various Maya Indians and known as indigenas.
The aim of Duarte´s project was to give indigenas free access to photographic equipment and know-how, to enable them to take and develop their own photographs. She thus gave them for the first time in the history of their culture a chance to present themselves, and she tried not to interfere with their choice of themes and motifs either conceptually or aesthetically. The indigenas were to be free to present themselves to other cultures in their own way. This new record of their history through the medium of photography is seen by Duarte as a further stage in the indigenas´ 500 year-old struggle since the Spanish conquest to exercise their right to preserve and develop their own cultures, traditions and languages.
Notable about the images from the photo-cooperative, in which indigenas belonging to various ethnic and linguistic families are recording and preserving their cultures, is the fact that they are not mainly concerned with recording the armed uprising which for years has been waged bloodily and cruelly in Chiapas. Rather our view of Chiapas has been widened by a new perspective. “To these things the indigenous photographers have an access differing in both content and view-point from foreigners´. They are no strangers to their own lives,” writes the Mexican anthropologist Gabriela Vargas Cetina. (In: http://buerger.metropolis.de/madlen1976/november.txt)
Maruch Santiz Gomez, too, does not focus on the struggle smouldering for years between the Zapatistas and the government but on that which she loves: life, folk, animals and everyday things in the village. On coming to San Cristobal de las Casas at the age of 17, she was already a member of Sna Jtz´ibajom, the house of writers, an association of indigenous authors with a centre there. Only a few months after her photographic training in Duartes´ project, she began her series “Creencias” (“beliefs” or “credos”). The series was then published in book form.
Her works preserve the orally transmitted Maya traditions in words and images, which describe and illustrate them. “It is crucial that the indigenas take photos of their own culture,” she says, “to let it be known to other indigenas in South America. We thus safeguard, record and propagate our traditional cultures, enabling future generations to recall them and to learn from them.” (Maruch Santiz Gomez, in: http://buerger.metropolis.de/madlen1976/november.txt.)
From the start of her work, Maruch was very concerned with the combination of text and image. 2) “The photos can be read, and it is easier than understanding the texts because many people do not know how to read.” (Maruch Santiz Gomez, in: www.artshistory.mx/maruchsantiz)
Her photos show, for instance, pots, fire, children and animals - images which Gomez arranges as illustrations for her texts, which may often strike outsiders as rather strange. These texts are based on tales heard from her parents, grandparents and great grandparents as well as from neighbours, and they present traditional, orally transmitted customs. These are passed on to future generations as advice and wisdom. Each text is given in three languages: in Tzotzil, her mother-tongue, which she wishes in this way to preserve, and in Spanish and English.
One of her black and white photos for instance shows a cut- or broken-off branch from whose twigs a few berries and leaves are hanging. The branch, whose twigs have been noosed together to form a kind of broom, is leaning against a wall of boards. The adage accompanying this image is: “It is bad to sweep the house in the afternoon because you can become so unlucky that you will lose all your money.” (Maruch Santiz Gomez, in: www.arts-history.mx/maruchsantiz).
The images of “Creencias” visualise the spoken words of Maruch´s forefathers and point beyond them. Vargas Cetina calls “Creencias” a bridge between eras and cultures. They are able to create understanding between generations as well as bridges between Maruch´s culture and that of the industrialised Western world. They offer a path of understanding which goes beyond the solely personal (see Gabriela Vargas Cetina, in: www.arts-history.mx/maruchsantiz). By combining texts and very expressive photos, Maruch reveals her own interpretation of “Creencias”, and it is precisely this personal touch which makes her testament so special.
Maruch composes every single image of “Creencias” with manifold elements. Her photos are a creative discourse freighted with emotions and ancient wisdom and open to various interpretations. Her combination of text and image makes her similar to conceptual artists. At the same time she records the wisdom of her forefathers and creates a kind of iconography of Mayan notions (see Hermann Bellinghausen, in: www.arts-history.mx/maruchsantiz).
Maruch Santiz Gomez was born in 1975 near Cruztón in San Juan Chamula. In her childhood she looked after the family sheep. In 1993 she got to know of the project "Archivo Fotografico Indigena" and has since then worked with photography and language. Her works have already been exhibited in Mexico, the USA and Europe. She is married and has two children.
Exhibition / Installation,
Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico
Centro de la Imágen, Mexico
The Ford Foundation, Mexico
Würth Museum, Künzelsau, Germany
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Spain
Sammlung Daros Latinoamérica, Zürich, Switzerland
Group Exhibitions (Choice)
Exhibition / Installation,
"Do You Believe in Reality? 2004 Taipei Biennial“, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
"Shanghai Biennial 2004“, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China
"Mexiko Iluminado”, Albright College Center for the Arts, Reading, USA
"Imágenes Subtituladas”, Fundació Espais d’art contemporani, Girona, Spain
"Text Message“, Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid, Spain
"Imágenes Subtituladas“, Fundació Espais, Girona, Spain
"Mexico Iluminado”, Freedman Gallery, Reading, USA
"La Mirada”, Fotografia en la Colección Daros, Zurich, Switzerland
"FIAC 02”, Stand Galeria OMR, Paris, France
"Mensaje de Texto”, Galeria Helga, Alvear, Spain
"Money and Value”, Swiss National Bank, Basel, Switzerland
"Lifestills”, Galerie Carousel, Paris, France
"ArtBasel 01”, Stand Galeria OMR, Basel, Switzerland
"ReMediated Memories”, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia
"Más allá del minimalismo”, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
"Art Forum 2000”, Stand Galeria OMR, Berlin, Germany
"Nostalgia, un grupo de fotografia”, Galeria OMR, Mexico City, Mexico
"Fotofest’98, Looking at the 90’s”, Vine Street Studios, Houston, USA
"Creencias”, Casa de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos, Oaxaca, Mexico
"Campo visual”, Latin American Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands
"Visión indigena: fotografias por indigenas de Mexiko”, Centro Cultural de los Altos de Chiapas y HAH, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
"Campo visual: Visión indigena de la Vida Campesina en Chiapas”, Café La Selva, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
"Territorios singulares: Fotografia Contemporánea Mexicana”, Sala de Exposiciones del Canal de Isabel II, Madrid, Spain
"Visión indigena de Chiapas”, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, USA
"Una familia de Cruztón”, Café la Selva, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
"Naturaleza muerta”, El Centro Integral de Fotografia-Galeria Pedro Meyer, Puebla, Mexico
"Mayan views”, Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, USA
"Dia de los muertos”, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago, USA
"Somos mujeres indigenas de Chamula”, Café La Selva, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
"Africus 95”, Johannesburg Biennial, Johannesburg, South Adrica
"Nuevas prácticas colectivas”, Galeria Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico
"Distant Voices”, The Puffin Space, New York, USA
Solo Exhibitions (Choice)
Exhibition / Installation
"De la Serie Creencias“, Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes, Mexico City, Mexico
"FIAC 2000“, Stand Galeria OMR, Paris, France
"Creencias“, Instituto Mexicano de Cultura, New York, USA
"Maruch Sántiz Gómez“, Galeria OMR, Mexico City, Mexico
"Creencias de Chamula“, Centro Cultural San Angel, Mexico City, Mexico