Modern Mexico City cannot escape the past. Built upon the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the ancient roots of the city pervade everyday life. In the city’s central zocalo (square) millions of people pass the remains of Aztec pyramids on their way to work each day. Indigenous men perform vibrant traditional tribal dances in the city center and the air is thick with the smell of burning incense from shamanistic rituals.

Santiago Chile Mexico-Tenochtitlan

Francisco Mata captures the many dimensions of Mexican life in 53 black-and-white photos that make up the photo exhibition “México-Tenochtitlan.” Looking at his works means slipping through layers of history, spirituality and tradition. The selection comes from 25 years of photographing life on the streets of Mexico City, and perhaps its depth stems from Mata’s philosophy that photography is not the objective of his experiences, but rather the path to the experiences themselves.

“One of the best pleasures that my trade has given me is, without doubt, living the streets--living our popular culture fed by its roots, by traditions, impositions, resistance, violence, love for the land, solidarity, music, sensuality, hopes and fears. To live in the street is to observe, listen, feel, smell and share . . . and finally to photograph,” Mata says.

Santiago Chile

The transformation of religion is a recurring theme in his photography. Several photos feature aspects of Hispanic Catholicism, such as the chalked image of Virgin Mary on a sidewalk, or the pained face of a man during a crucifixion reenactment with a loudspeaker held up to his mouth. Others examine a more indigenous form of spiritualism directed towards the Coatli (Aztec and Mayan gods), with men in large feathered headdresses merging ancient tradition and modern life; one man stands in traditional dress holding a film camera on his shoulder. Even Mexico’s most recent “religion” is captured--a statue of the child Jesus wears the national football team's jersey.

Many of the photos in the exhibition feature masks, an adornment tied to Mexico for diverse reasons from the Lucha Libre wrestling warriors to the literary theories of Octavio Paz. For Paz, the mask represents Mexican psyche as a symbol of simulation, preservation and protection. Many of Mata’s photos show both the mask and what is beneath it, thus revealing the true complexity of Mexican culture. In the words of Paz, “If we tear off these masks, if we 'open' ourselves up, if – in brief – we face our own selves, then we can truly begin to live and think.”

The exhibition marks the end of a month of joint independence celebrations between Mexico and Chile, whose independence days fall just two days apart in the calendar year. Throughout the month, cultural links between the two countries have been promoted. This final exhibition seeks to provide Chileans with, in the words of Centro Cultural's executive director Arturo Navarro Ceardi, an opportunity for the inhabitants of Santiago to “reflect on their own urban and cultural experience.”

September 24 to October 12
Centro Cultural Estación Mapocho
Sala de fotografía

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