A butcher, two sailors, a cook, an old man, a cop, a drunk man and a ritual performer. The eight portraits that constitute this first part of the series Cajamala, can be identified by the jobs of the people portrayed; the images adopt the aesthetics of their work, the role they perform and their social positioning. But this is not the only possible reading of the portraits: they cross an anthropologic threshold, and from the thick expression in the eyes of these people, emerges a 21st century Latin American rural life narrative universe.
In the style of what magic realism writers ―Rulfo, Miguel Ángel de Asturias, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska among others― the first part of Cajamala shows a system of fictional or, at least, anachronic relations. The images reveal the syncretic character of a rural village. Elements like the absence of children, religious rituals where animals are sacrificed, a visible relation between the body and the land and the materials for the manual work of these people combine to question spectators, as if they whispered an underlying arcane to their ears.
At the same time, the landscape is open to our interpretation of these images. Sebastián Montalvo Gray is telling us that the exuberance of the territory lives inside the portrayed bodies. Their value lies in an apparent resistance to time and transformation, to modernity ―with its advantages and its decadence― to the technological development that replaces traditions and working methods. These changes have not fully taken place in the town where the portraits where made. Instead, the cultural fabric of the relations intuitively imagined by looking at the portrayed characters, is one that has assimilated urban life style in smaller measure. This is the result of a gesture to preserve a local identity.
Cajamala can be perfectly compared to Rulfo’s Comala or García Márquez’ Macondo, something similar to what happens with the woman captured plucking a chicken in this village apparently ruled by men, where women seem not allowed to work and are banned from public life. There is a woman who makes her way through the portrait, similar Elena Poniatowska’s character Jesusa, from her novel Hasta no verte Jesús mío. The possibility of a fiction proposed by these images allows us to dismantle that self-manifesting, almost stereotyped and rigid social reality. Cajamala shows us a bright and a dark side. Magic vs the imposed reality.
Montalvo Gray’s view reveals the singularity of a Latin American village, but also its universal traits.