Saints and Sinners: 
Rituals of Penance and Redemption

Exhibit Dates:  May 25 - July 30, 2012

Opening Reception and Book Signing
Friday, May 25, 2012, 5-7 p.m.
 "In the Country of Empty Crosses:
The Story of a Hispano Protestant Family in Catholic New Mexico
Arturo Madrid (Author) Miguel Gandert (Photographer)

The Andrew Smith Gallery  celebrates our 2012 summer season with the exhibit, "Saints and Sinners: Rituals of Penance and Redemption," by award-winning New Mexican photographer Miguel Gandert.  The public is invited to a reception and book signing on Friday May 25 from 5-7 to meet Mr. Gandert who will be signing copies of the new book "In the Country of Empty Crosses: The Story of a Hispano Protestant Family in Catholic New Mexico" (2012) by Arturo Madrid with 80 photographs by Miguel Gandert. In addition to the trade copy published by Trinity University Press, San Antonio, there is a special limited edition of 100 books encased in a handsome slipcover that include an original print by Miguel Gandert.

Miguel Gandert was born in Española, New Mexico in 1956, a descendant of Spanish settlers of Mora, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado.  Raised in Santa Fe, he began photographing in 1968, focusing on the lifestyles and traditions of rural and urban Hispanics living along the Rio Grande valley from Mexico to southern Colorado, especially the "barrio" culture in Albuquerque as well as northern New Mexico villages.  Gandert's common ancestry with his subjects has produced an insider's view of contemporary Hispanic culture which despite change, maintains deep roots in the past. 

Over the last four decades Gandert has compiled a monumental document of Hispanic religious life, Hispanic artists, dwellers on the Mexican/American border, and confluences of Spanish Colonial and Mesoamerican indigenous traditions. In "Saints and Sinners: Rituals of Penance and Redemption," he has enlarged his photographic document of the sacred and secular rituals of mestizo people of the Rio Grande corridor that first appeared in his book Nuevo México Profundo: Rituals of an Indo-Hispano Homeland (2000). In this latest body of work he concentrates on southern regions working as far south as Aguascalientes of the ancient Camino Real,  the "Royal Road," that began at the port city of Veracruz (where Cortéz landed), and ran west to Mexico City where it joined an ancient Aztec trail to the silver mining district of Zacatecas, and then continued north to Santa Fe.  For 300 years the 1500 mile Camino Real was the trail of colonization by Spain, and the route traveled by thousands of settlers from Mexico and Spain, as well as by priests and friars who converted native peoples and built Spanish missions that are still in use today.  

In Mexican cities and villages along the Camino Real Gandert photographed contemporary rituals and festivals that over time have blended aspects of Spanish Colonial with Mesoamerican traditions in reenactments of the Passion of Jesus, medieval conflicts between the Christians and the Moors, and Colonial New World battles between the Spanish and Native Indians. Participants in these dramas assume the role of historical and allegorical characters, acting out the struggle between perceived good and evil in rituals that often end with the transformation of evil into good. Gandert's photographs convey the wonder and mystery of the ancient rituals, often transcending ethnographic documents to become timeless works of art. The exhibit at Andrew Smith Gallery contrasts Gandert's photographs taken of rituals in Mexico with similar events in New Mexico.  

The Photographs 

"3 Generaciones, Nombre de Dios, Mexico", 2007 - In the village capilla (chapel) of Nombre de Dios in central Mexico Gandert photographed an elderly penitent with his grandson. Despite the title being "3 generations" there are in fact, only the grandfather and boy because the other men in the family are in the U.S. trying to earn money.

"Abuelos, Juarez, Mexico" 2004 - During the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in downtown Juarez Gandert photographed people wearing frightening masks who represent the spirit of the past. The same tradition is found in the matachina dances of New Mexico and is related to the Native American sacred clown tradition from northern New Mexico.

"Cuencame Hermanos, Cuencame, Mexico," 2008 - These men, gathered together for prayer, belong to a penitente brotherhood devoted to Nuestro Señor Jesus Nazareno.

"The Stations of the Cross in Durango, Mexico," 2009 - During Holy Week the city of Durango puts on a dramatic and highly literal reenactment of the Passion of Jesus. In the exhibit it is interesting to compare this picture to a photograph of a similar event taken in Santa Fe.

"Christ's Removal from the Cross, Cuencame, Mexico," 2008 - A large bulto of Christ with flexible limbs is being carefully taken down as part of the Stations of the Cross ritual in the town of Cuencame.

"Penitentes, Durango," 2008 - Unlike in other parts of Mexico women living in Durango are allowed to be members of the confradia and even children can participate in ceremonies. Both the woman and child in Gandert's photograph wear scapulars around their necks.

"Christ in the Sarcophagus, Nombre de Dios, Mexico," 2008 - A few seconds before Gandert took this photograph he was deeply involved in the ritual of placing Christ into the sarcophagus. He broke away from a profoundly emotional experience to take the photograph, a double role he calls "participant observation."

"Penitentes, Durango, Mexico," 2008 - In recent years the city of Durango has been promoting Good Friday rituals to tourists and visitors. To create even more impact ritual participants have started wearing pointed hoods, a tradition that dates from medieval Spain.

"Dismas The Good Thief, Crucified with Jesus, Nombre de Dios, Mexico" 2007 - Dismas was one of the two thieves crucified with Jesus who asked that Jesus remember him in his kingdom. In Mexico he is venerated as a saint. In Gandert's photograph the statue with flexible joints hangs on a cracked plaster wall alongside an incense canister and an offering of flowers.

"Founder of Pentitent Brothers in Nombe de Dios, Mexico," 2007 - The skull in the glass case belonged to the founder of a brotherhood in Nombre de Dios who was murdered while trying to protect his acequia. The caretaker of the church lifted up the glass case and let Gandert hold the skull, showing him the hole where a pickax struck through bone. Behind the skull is a statue of Saint Anthony holding a skull.

"Chicawales, Jesus Maria, Mexico" 2009 - In the village of Jesus Maria outside of Zacatecas Gandert shot this powerful photograph of masked dancers called "chicawales" on the feast day of Santiago during a Moros y Christianos celebration. The pink masks represent St. James the Moor killer, in contrast to the Moors who wear black masks.

"Hijo del Hombre, Santa Cruz, New Mexico", 2007 - Gandert photographed this especially graphic recreation of Christ on the cross being performed by young people at the church at Santa Cruz, a suburb of Española, New Mexico.

If there is an underlying theme to "Saints and Sinners" it may be the deep seated need in human nature to create elaborate rituals that facilitate our understanding of, among other things, the transition from evil to good,  penance to redemption, sinner to saint . . . and back again.

Miguel Gandert's books of photographs include In the Country of Empty Crosses: The Story of a Hispano Protestant Family in Catholic New Mexico (2012) by Arturo Madrid; The Plazas of New Mexico (2011);  Nuevo México Profundo: Rituals of an Indo-Hispano Homeland (2000); Hermanitos Comanchitos: Indo-Hispano Rituals of Captivity and Redemption (2003); The Pilgrimage to Chimayo: Contemporary Portrait of a Living Tradition (1996), and Upper Rio Grande Hispano Farms Study (1996).

Gandert's exhibitions include a one-man show at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in 1990;  the 1993 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art,  and the opening exhibit in 2000 of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico.   He and his wife live in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he is the Distinguished Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico, as well as the Director of UNM's Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media Program.


Liz Kay


View the Show