The Guardian | The big picture: Pieter Hugo turns his camera on Mexico

The extraordinary and the everyday jostle for attention in the South African photographer’s examination of Mexican

The Wedding Gift, Juchitán de Zaragoza, 2018 by Pieter Hugo. Photograph: Pieter Hugo

By Sean O´Hagan

Sun 2 Feb 2020

Pieter Hugo’s new series, La Cucaracha (The Cockroach), named after a traditional song made popular during the Mexican revolution, grew out of a visit to the country in 2018. He was invited there by a curator whose stipulation was that he make work on the theme of sex and mortality.

“Mexico’s anarchic, visceral energy got under my skin and sucked me in,” he recalls. “There is an acceptance that life has no glorious victory, no happy ending. Humour, ritual, a strong sense of community and an embrace of the inevitable make it possible to live with tragic and often unacceptable situations.”

Hugo’s approach shifted accordingly to reflect the flamboyance and gritty ordinariness of life there, his images filled with vibrant colours and often mysterious symbolism. This portrait is a case in point. Entitled The Wedding Gift, it shows a young bride in Juchitán de Zaragoza cradling an iguana, a creature considered a symbol of patience, understanding and kindness in Mexico. Conversely, the elaborately competitive mating rituals performed by the male of the species – head-bobbing, nudging, biting and even changing colour – have been mimicked in local song and dance, including a famous traditional ballet, La Iguana de Guerrero.

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