Six Million Pilgrims, by Alinka Echeverria

January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

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Six Million Pilgrims (2009) is a photographic typology of the backs of three hundred Mexican Catholic pilgrims on their journey to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.  This yearly pilgrimage, undertaken by approximately six million people every year takes place on the anniversary of the five apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe between the 9th and 12th December 1531 to the indigenous man Juan Diego in Tepeyac, the sacred place of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. The myth of the apparitions marks a turning point in the spiritual conquest of native Mexicans by the Spanish and lead to the amalgamation of Tonantzin and the Virgin Mary. This is the origin of the devotion of Mexicans to the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Since the spiritual conquest of Mexico (arguably one of the most important legacies of the colonial period), the image of the Virgin has been of central importance in the history of Mexico. Her image was used by political leaders as a symbol of faith and freedom during the Independence movement in 1810, and again during the Revolution a century later.
In 2010 the Virgen de Guadalupe continues to be the center piece of our cosmology as Mexicans. This work is an observation of her role in contemporary visual culture and the vast layers of symbolism transmitted through her iconic image. I am also interested in the pilgrimage as a socio-political and cultural phenomenon and in the psychological and emotional relationship that each individual has with the Virgin.  The work is inspired by the Becher tradition of systematic documentation.  I chose to photograph the pilgrims that are carrying their virgin, which is usually hanging in their home.  They take their paintings, sculptures, posters or cloaks of the Virgen to the Basicila to be blessed and to give thanks. Each portrait was taken separately, then ‘cut out’ and mounted onto a plain background. This decontextualization is intended to focus our attention on the individual. It also functions as a means to be able to then recombine it with the other hundreds of pilgrims. When placed back into the series the image has a direct relationship to the other portraits rather than with the rest of the elements originally in the image. The large number of portraits creates a visual maze of similarity and difference, perhaps metaphoric of Mexican identity and makes us imagine the millions of pilgrims that visit the Basilica every year.

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