‘I’m Finished When I Start Looking at the World in a Different Way’
The photographer Pieter Hugo, who has captured scenes from Nigeria to Mexico, takes T inside his studio.
The artist Pieter Hugo, photographed in his studio in Cape Town, South Africa, alongside a human anatomy model. Credit Stephanie Veldman
By Osman Can Yerebakan
Jan. 9, 2020
In 2018, the curator Francisco Berzunza invited the South African artist Pieter Hugo to Mexico to create a body of work that would engage with themes of sexuality and death for an exhibition at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo. During his monthlong stay, Hugo searched for a response to this prompt, and inspiration came when he chanced upon a platter of desiccated fruits in Oaxaca. “Making Pigments. San Agustin Etla” (2018), which shows a spread of dying crops in bold hues, was the first image Hugo captured in Mexico. But “something shifted” during that first visit, Hugo says. “I don’t know why, but I’m not done here,” he remembers thinking; he has since visited Mexico four more times, traveling between the bustling border city of Tijuana in the north, the colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Central Highlands and the indigenous Zapotec town of Juchitán in the southern state of Oaxaca. “From the Day of the Dead to narco-politics, death is strongly felt there,” he says of the country, but it was its people’s day-to-day understanding of life’s fragility that inspired his new photography series, “La Cucaracha,” which will go on display at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York this month. Hugo named the series after the popular folk song about an injured cockroach whose lyrics are often rewritten in Mexico as political satire.