The latest project of Pieter Hugo, La Cucaracha was created in Mexico in 2018 and 2019 and is presented in Europe for the first time by Priska Pasquer between 6 September and 23 November 2019. This photo series depicts people and situations encountered by the artist during a total of four stays for several weeks, above all in Mexico City, Oaxaca de Juárez, Juchitán and Hermosillo. The portraits and still lifes bring to the fore the travelling artist’s openness towards generic yet unexpected situations.
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
Priska Pasquer - Gallery / C_Room 1
Albertusstraße 18, 50667 Cologne, Germany
September 06, 2019 to November 23, 2019