In his introduction to Phyllis Galembo’s book for this body of work, Sergio Rodrígues-Blanco explains: “Galembo traveled to the Riviera Maya for the first time in the 1970s, when tourism was scarce. She was invited to participate in a local fiesta in a small community, where women wore huipiles (embroidered blouses) as part of their annual celebration. Her visual interest in Mexico started during this initial journey, and led to her obsession for documenting celebrations and ritual dress around the world—which would become the focal point of her work in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. Over the past ten years, Galembo has turned her lens to Mexico, where she has undertaken the task of photographing in situ the masks and attires of communities geographically distant and very diverse from one another, but coinciding in one regard: a high indigenous component strongly marked by the transculturation and the syncretism of the mestizaje process”—the hybridization of pre-Hispanic and Catholic colonial culture that continues today against a backdrop of global culture.
Yet, as Rodrígues-Blanco points out, these costumes, despite their contemporary manifestation, are ritual doorways that “give sacred access to another time” because they perform in an ancient ceremonial cycle that ties them to “the mythical time of eternity.” In the Mexican state of Guerrero, for example, summer festivals dedicated to Christian saints combine precolonial Mesoamerican elements. The festival for Santa Ana in Mochitlán includes the ancient solar ceremony of Tlanexcayotile, held at dawn. So, too, Mexico’s chief religious figure, the Virgin of Guadelupe, is understood to have issued forth from the abode of the Aztec earth goddess, the hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City, and she is venerated as a powerful mother figure, benevolent and protective.
Phyllis Galembo photographs Mexican costumes in static poses, as with her general practice in many countries. The technique resonates with the work of earlier photographers in Mexico, but Galembo’s unique sensibility to color and composition heighten the visual impact of her work, paralleling the aesthetic power that is key to ritual objects and ceremonial performances. Her sympathetic response fuses the separation between photographer and subject, and between photograph and viewer—just as the contemporary performers fuse with a sacred and eternal time.
Galembo’s Mexican photographs and the accompanying book have been widely featured and reviewed in photography magazines.
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 10/7/2019
October 31 marks the beginning of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, and we’re preparing early with photographer Phyllis Galembo’s eye-popping new monograph, Mexico Masks Rituals. Galembo’s images allow us to reflect on the “eternal present” of ritual celebrations, essayist Sergio Rodríguez Blanco writes. “Those who look back at us from these photographs are not the individuals, but the rituals captured in real time, as unabated, materialized symbols depicted in a mosaic of almost unrealistic forms, textures and colors, similar to abstract paintings. While these photographs cannot capture the eternal present of ritual time, the wearers of masks and costumes whose chromatic range seems to overflow from these pages are there posing for the camera, detained in the fixed time, also eternal—perhaps also sacred—of photography.” Featured image is “Catrina, Axtla Jacaraondosas Group, All Saints’ Day” (2016) from the Xantolo festival in San Luis Potosí. All Saints’ Day is the last day of the three-day festival, this year falling on Friday, November 1.
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/20/2019
Today the Catholic world celebrates the festival of Corpus Christi, honoring the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the flesh-and-blood person who was also the son of God. So we’re featuring this 2016 photograph, “Xita Corpus,” from Mexico Masks Rituals, Phyllis Galembo’s new monograph documenting the ritual mask cultures of Mexico. In the Corpus Christi festival in Temascalcingo in the state of Mexico, “the townsfolk make huge masks, don outlandish costumes and transform themselves into characters known as the xita or huehues (the old ones),” George Otis writes. “They represent the ancestors who send the rains, and the theatrical ceremony is a kind of offering to them. The body of Christ is referred to as corpu viejo (the body of the old one), and this is probably not a coincidence: in many indigenous traditions the deceased Christ is considered to be the embodiment of all the ancestors.”
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 5/30/2019
In Phyllis Galembo’s new book on the mask cultures of Mexico, ritual object and corporal body become one
“Reyna, Queen of the Santiagos” (2017) is reproduced from Phyllis Galembo: Mexico Masks Rituals, launching tonight at Howl! Happening in the East Village. Essayist Sergio Rodríguez Blanco writes, “Within ancestral cultures living on the latitude of Earth we now call Mexico—as well as in how those cultures survive in what we call popular culture—participants in the rites which generally coincide with Roman Catholic festivities, in dance and chants, wearing masks and costumes, stop existing as themselves and morph into an ancestor, into a deity. Ritual object and corporal body become one, and catapult to a dimension beyond time or history. They revisit the myth in order to invoke their communal origin, in order to recover—for an instant—the radiance of original time, while also reinforcing their social behaviors and reclaiming their ethos.“
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 5/5/2019
Forthcoming from Radius Books and D.A.P., Phyllis Galembo’s Mexico Masks Rituals is one vibrant book. The featured photograph, Family in Maguey Masks (2016), is reproduced from the section on the festival of Corpus Cristi (body of Christ), which takes place during late April or early May, “a time that coincides with the onset of the summer rains,” according to essayist George Otis. “In agricultural communities that depend on rainfall, this is one of the most critical times of the year. In ancient Mesoamerica, the peoples’ ancestors were deified, and became the objects of rituals and prayers for rain, fertility, health and good fortune. Even 500 years after the Spanish conquest and the Christianization of the population, Mesoamerican beliefs and practices continue to underlie much of popular Catholicism in Mexico.”
BELLE HUTTON | DATE 5/3/2019
“Phyllis Galembo’s new book, Mexico, Masks & Rituals, is the result of ten years of photographing the costumes and masquerades of festivals and carnivals in the country.”
MARIAH McCLOSKEY | DATE 4/18/2019
(Galembo’s) “focus on the complexities behind the Mestizo culture is shown through the dynamic aspects of the costumes. Each handmade outfit resembles a person or a story from the past. The costumes are reimagined versions from the archives of both the Mexican and Spanish history; holding onto aspects of the past interwoven with pieces of the present. Galembo delivers a beautiful recounting of how the people present both their history and themselves–empowering both the natives and her reader.”
PHYLLIS GALEMBO | DATE 4/23/2019
“Phyllis Galembo photographs ritual dress, from costumes to masks to body paint, expressing a rich range of political, artistic, theatrical, social and religious meanings. Her latest project focuses on Mexican traditions.”