Monday, February 11, 2008

Narco-Santo & Photography in 1960 Algeria - It's All About the "Gaze"

Saw this great article about the renegade santo - Jesús Malverde - on Hasta los Gatos Quieren Zapatos, which was originally from the NYT.

Religious art is a fascinating thing to me, hence the blogging. It amazes me that even mobbed up thugs want a little divine intervention on their behalf. And they will resort to buying art - and possibly giving themselves away - to feel secure in that aid. We all want to be comforted and feel that the Higher Power is on our side. Even the crooks.
"People say Malverde helped me do this or that; mostly it's people into drugs who think he'll shield them from the police," said Raul Gonzalez, owner of a botánica called Mystic Products in Compton, Calif. "It's the power of the mind, you know. They believe it, so they take chances and get away with it, but they will eventually get caught."

Indeed, drug enforcement authorities in Mexico and the United States said Malverde statues, tattoos and amulets can be tip-offs to illegal activity.

"We send squads out to local hotel and motel parking lots looking for cars with Malverde symbols on the windshield or hanging from the rearview mirror," said Sgt. Rico Garcia with the narcotics division of the Houston Police Department. "It gives us a clue that something is probably going on."

Courts in California, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas have ruled that Malverde trinkets and talismans are admissible evidence in drug and money-laundering cases.

"It's not a direct indication of guilt, but it would definitely be used in combination with other things" like piles of cash, baggies and scales, said José Martinez, a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Last month, Cervecería Minerva, a Mexican microbrewery in the central-western state of Jalisco, introduced a beer called Malverde. Company officials said they chose Malverde's name and image for its label because he was the most recognizable and admired figure in focus groups.

"Drug smugglers drink it like holy water," Sergeant Garcia said.

Bris de Mots was also thinking about religious imagery this week, talking about the photography of Marc Garanger in his book, Femmes Algériennes 1960.

Apparently, Garanger's job was to photograph Algerian women without their veils for the French occupying/colonial authorities who were making identity cards. The book sounds like it is a study in culture clash, on many levels.

But the most intriguing idea from Bris de Mots was (if my French isn't too rusty!), "the reference to the judeo-christian aesthetic in a civilization which does not have the worship of the religious image occults [maybe occludes?] the dramatic reality."*

So the artist, and the French/Western/Non-Muslim viewers have a MUCH different reaction to these photographs than Muslims, or, especially, the sitters who were photographed. I've never seen this book in real life, but the cover photo shows a young woman in traditional Algerian garb - does she look saintly to you too? or is it my fascination with religious art and saints' images that gets in the way? Food for thought.

* The original text says: "la référence à l'esthétique judéo-chrétienne dans une civilisation qui n'a pas le culte de l'image religieuse occulte la dramatique réalité".


LeeSee said...

Whoa! Way cool to give us a shout out.
So appreciated.

Amaryllis said...

La phrase ne concernait pas les photos de Marc Garanger mais la photo de Hocine appelée par les médias "la madone" (sourire)