The first time I went to Mexico City it was for a short business trip in April 2008 and I was totally unprepared for what I encountered. The trip was an eye-opener because like many others, I too had a romantic notion in my mind of what South America and its people would be like. My colleagues kept warning me to “lay low”, “watch my back” and “always call a taxi from the hotel” (to avoid those taxi drivers who would “kidnap” me). Still, I took every chance I had to walk the streets with my camera.
On every street corner, armed police officers kept watch with their machine guns and their tanks; next to them there was always a group of kids laughing and playing. Everybody went about their business with a smile on their face; street vendors and cleaners carried their heavy goods and tools; nurses gave flu shots to patients in the metro station; shamans performed purifying rituals on tourists.
On the one hand, in less than 5 days, I had experienced several rides alone on the Mexican metro, a ‘biggish’ earthquake and a city sewer flood… On the other hand, I had the time of my life in a small salsa club where you had to dance, even though you didn’t know how to. I watched a cat play with the sunbeams in Frida Kahlo’s garden. I stood next to the most magnificent monuments dedicated to the Gods of the Sun and the Moon after a heart-breaking, one-hour drive through the surrounding city slums. However, what I remember most of all are the people with their beautiful smiles and their sad eyes. What violence these eyes must have witnessed.
Enter Jorge Manilla, a Mexican contemporary jewellery artist who reminded me of all this a few days ago, when he spoke to me about his work. I first noticed him last year when one of his pieces was on the “Under that Cloud” exhibition and I was very happy to hear about his new work, which, in my opinion, reflects the happiness, the sadness and the violence that is Mexico.
He describes his series “Te mato por que te amo” (I kill you because I love you) as the sum of thoughts and memories of psychological and physical violence. “When I was working, I read a lot about violence, what philosophers like Georges Bataille write about it, with his texts on eroticism, violence, and death” Jorge explains.
By observing how people and the media deal with violence, he found out that the line between man and animal is very thin. “For some people violence is living proof that man is a savage… for other people it is the road to civility” he points out in his statement.
In his work, Jorge does not judge; he treats all emotions equally and creates pieces, which are witnesses to both the Good and Evil inside all of us. Like another kind of shaman, Jorge performs his own purifying ritual on emotions and transcribes fear, passion, jealousy, pain, sadness and love into the materials he uses: ash, charcoal, pigments, dried flowers, bones and fabric from old t-shirts and bags. Objects of life and death are enclosed in small containers and are sprayed with foam. As the foam fails to escape this violent grip, it explodes and transforms into something new. Before the pieces are ready, Jorge performs the last step of purification; he burns them.
Jorge has been living and working in Belgium for the last 9 years. He misses Mexico and sounds very nostalgic when he talks about his home. The second time I go to Mexico I hope to meet him there, living and working in his city.
Contemporary Savagery – La violencia del latin Violentia
“For some people violence is living proof that man is a savage… for other people it is the road to civility. Regardless of our understanding or appreciation of the subject, the only thing that we can be sure of is that violence is a part of our human nature.
While researching for this project, I found that most of the time humans perceive, relate to each other and are motivated through their raw emotions. For example: fear, passion, jealousy, cowardice, pain, rancor, bad blood, sadness and even love are concepts that are buried within the reasons for violence. This range of diverse emotion, rational and irrational, are the reasons why violence became the source of inspiration for my work.
In my artistic research, I decided not to work literally with violence but with violent thoughts, feelings and memories. I explore In which moment we become a victim and in which moment we are the victimizers? As a result, I have made troubled objects in non-attractive shapes with surprising and frightening images. I created the imperfect perfection, black images that mirror and reflect our imperfect reallity. My materials create cataclysmic scenes, explosions that seem to melt the objects.
In the end my objects are no longer merely materials and distorted shapes but rather dissected feelings, broken memories, and dry organs that reveal a naked soul and the fragility of our situation”. Jorge Manilla
All photos are courtesy of the artist.
Photographer: Hanne Nieberding
Title quote: Georges Bataille
Thank you for reading 🙂