Tuesday, December 1, 2009

She reigned over the savage beasts: Cristina García Rodero

I tried to photograph the mysterious, true and magical soul of popular Spain in all its passion, love, humor, tenderness, rage, pain, in all its truth; and the fullest and most intense moments in the lives of these characters as simple as they are irresistible, with all their inner strength, as a personal challenge that gave me strength and understanding and in which I invested all my heart."

Cristina García Rodero was born in Puertollano, Spain. She studied painting at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Madrid, before taking up photography. For the next 16 years, she dedicated her time to researching and photographing popular and traditional festivities - religious and pagan - principally in Spain but also across Mediterranean Europe. The documentary and ethnological value of her work is considerable, but the esthetic quality of her photography makes it more than a simple visual record. In recent years, García Rodero has traveled around the world in search of other cultures with particular traditions. Over a period of four years, she went several times to Haiti, where she has documented voodoo rituals, producing a series of expressive portraits and moving scenes flanked by engaging documentary observations.
Maria Lionza is the central figure in one of the largest cults in Venezuela. Her cult is a blend of African, indigenous, and Catholic beliefs similar to the Caribbean Santeria. She is revered as a goddess of nature, love, peace, and harmony. She has followers in many layers of Venezuelan society from small rural villages to the modern capital of Caracas, where a statue stands in her honor. According to the legends, María Lionza was born in 1502 to an Indian chief from the region of Yaracuy. She was believed to be a well endowed and strong woman, riding a big danta. It's said that she reigned over the savage beasts, and in her throne were authoctonal animals like turtles and snakes. She is said to still live on the mountain of Sorte, where her followers come to pay homage to her, calling her their 'Queen'. Because of the tradition, the mountain of Sorte was declared National Park in the 1980's. The name Maria Lionza comes from Maria de la Onza (Mary of the Jaguar), from the full name 'Santa María de la Onza Talavera del Prato de Nívar' given by the Catholic Church to hide and christianize the cult. Eventually the name was contracted to 'María Lionza'. The Maria Lionza cult, while similar in most aspects to Santeria, is in fact a combination between Catholicism, indigenous beliefs, Santería and European spiritualism. The mountain of Sorte, in Yaracuy state, Venezuela, is where the 'Altar Mayor' or principal altar is, and is the main destination of pilgrimage from other places in Venezuela and the Caribbean came to pay homage.


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