Photography is now an incalculable presence today. By this I mean simply that it's unimaginable to recount, let alone account for, the sheer number of fleeting pictures or recorded moving images we are confronted with from day to day. Despite the new pervasive nature of the cinematic or digital image, or maybe on account of its increase, the modern world is so much "inside photography" that still photography is often "invisible" to us, seen as self-evident or, on the contrary, viewed with the automatic suspicion prompted by a medium that also undermines so many assumptions about objectivity and representation.

Contact - Christians and Moors is an exhibition of R-type color prints produced by photographer George 0. Jackson. Born in Houston, Texas, of Mexican descent, Jackson has spent recent years documenting the celebrations and syncretic rituals as practiced in contemporary rural Mexico. In the process, he has created an important archive of Mexico's "ethnographic present", addressing issues of visual importance and cultural meaning. More specifically these photographs present us with those visually commanding festivities, pageantry and performances linked to the figure of Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Greater, or Saint James the Moor-Slayer), celebrated in countless different versions throughout Mexico. The importance of Santiago, and of the staged conflict between Christians and Moors in Mexican rural and religious life, is striking on many complex levels. These seasonal celebrations are cultural patterns that point back to the uncertainty of the years that followed the near-total destruction of Mexico-TenochtitlAn. In addition, they articulate the severe processes that gradually led to the precarious condition of New Spain and its day to day contact between Spanish colonials, criollos and the multiple indigenous communities in urban centers and countryside alike.

Even before the conquest of Mexico, Spanish devoutness had imparted considerable significance to the figure of Santiago, who in the first century according to legend converted the Iberian Peninsula to Christianity. His martyred body is said to have been brought from Jerusalem to Spain, after which a shrine was built to the saint in Santiago de Compostela. In the collective enterprise of unifying and reconquering the diverse territories of Spain under a Catholic monarchy, Santiago came to personify the convictions that prompted the violent crusades and religious internal wars to drive out Islam and its centuries-old civilization on the peninsula. Santiago's image was used in both battle and worship. By 1492, Spain had expelled the Arab and Jewish legacies from its "reconquered" territories, at the same time it began to lead European exploration in the New World.

Bernardino cle Sahagon, a Spanish friar who arrived in the years immediately following the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitl6n, wrote a General History of the Things of New Spain. This foundational text chronicles and transcribes what today provides us with information regarding the religious practices of the Mexica, or Aztecs, already in contact with, but still relatively unchanged by the imperial evangelizing efforts of the Conquest. As indigenous rituals and feast-days came into contact with Catholicism as violent de facto pressure, its own patterns of calendar observation, divine attributes, visual display and representation nevertheless persevered in one form or another through the extreme yet gradual process of syncretism, cultural contact and a joint (albeit imbalanced) transformation.

We can only speculate as to what it was in the belief system of the native Mexicans that permitted the bellicose figure of Santiago, triumphantly depicted mounted on a horse, to assume significance for the indigenous populations in the war-ravaged aftermath of the conquest, and in the years following colonization. That specific devotions were first imposed and then creatively appropriated remains an example of the contradictions inherent to the phenomena of syncretism as a complex form of cultural resistance. But devotion to Saint James, most notably in the choreographed confrontation between Christians and Moors - its multiple variations and parallel festivities - are certainly communal symbolic representations that point to the impact of the violent foundation out of which Mexican popular religious reality first originated and transfigured. These processes were continually rendered meaningful, although often at a distance from the centers of state power.


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