Cristina García Rodero

MDC Museum of Arts & Design, Miami

By Willy Castellanos | April 30, 2014

The photographic record of mystical feeling has been commonly addressed by the great religions of our contemporary world.

Cristina García Rodero

These reiterated documentations have functioned as sorts of iconographies of faith, oscillating between references that range from the vast congregations at the Vatican and Mecca, to the mass prayers before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Cristina García Rodero’s photographic project operates in an alternate sense: she rescues the small stories about the spiritual saga in a series of communities far away from the great platforms of media dissemination. Her exhibition Rituales en Haití (Rituals in Haiti) is part of a long ethnographic journey which has taken her from the Iberian Peninsula to India, South America, the Caribbean and the United States.

Structured in the classic style of the great twentieth century documentalists, Rituales is a first-hand visual source to understand religious syncretism in the Caribbean, as well as the persistence of the “Eternal return” to the primitive myths (as posited by Mircea Eliade) in the shaping of an identity that transcends Post-War geopolitics and the globalizing trend of contemporary archives.

The exhibition is organized on the basis of a programmed tour exploring the island’s different ceremonies, grouped in thematic units in an edition which is generous in principle, more in keeping with the book that accompanies it than with a synthetic display in the exhibition space. Certain spaces might duly have included the information required to understand the nature of the events, given the interest that this powerful visual record arouses. But the images leave no room for doubt.

García Rodero’s record is agile, revealing and daring. This affable woman of short stature and great vital strength inserts herself in the eye of the storm as if paraphrasing in her light step that famous phrase by Frank Capa: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Rituales achieves moments of intense poetry and drama that align it directly – as a link in a wider project – with the best of the genre’s humanist tradition. The exhibition acquires special significance in a city like Miami, whose Haitian immigrant population has ostensibly grown in the past few decades. The photographs rescue the symbolic universe of voodoo, as well as the most genuine rites of a culture closely related to the earth, to water, and to the cult of the dead as seminal elements. This process of reaching a definition of ‘the human’ – without shortages due to absence or excesses due to concessions – is currently one of the most difficult challenges facing documentalists, who carry on their backs the weight of a tradition that has envisaged suffering, the grotesque, or the erotic as the paradigm of photography.

García Rodero’s work inserts itself in the context of the contemporary from the historical postulates of the discipline, confirming – in an era that questions the artistic transcendence of the photographic document – that its language still has great contributions to offer. Not only as a vehicle for universal understanding, but also as a way to gain access to an alternate and versatile world, ungraspable in essence.