La Patrona de Zegache

The patron saint is Santa Ana, the mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus. Today the church bearing her name constitutes the artistic, cultural and spiritual landmark of Santa Ana Zegache. Twenty years ago, this 16th-century building, and all of its artwork, was in ruins. The church had a hole in the roof, rain poured in, and the interior crumbled in bits and pieces. Santa Ana Zegache is an indigenous pueblo of 2000 inhabitants in Oaxaca, Mexico. The people farm the scorched land or seek jobs in the city; boys become men by emigrating to the U.S. The women are often exposed to social control, waiting for their fiancés or husbands, who might not come back.

The Community Workshop of Zegache, established in 1997, brought in conservators who trained 10 local women ("those who wait") in various techniques of restoration. Some years later the women had restored the church to its past splendor - a masterpiece of "Indian Baroque". The pueblans could once again take pride in their cultural heritage - a change that was brought by themselves and not imposed on them by professionals from outside. Today the Community Workshop consists of 17 members, both women and men. One altarpiece remains to be restored; there are commissions from neighboring churches and collaborations with contemporary artists as the Community Workshop runs a gallery in the city.

Performing Pictures first visited the Community Workshop of Santa Ana Zegache in November 2008. Facing the social impact of the church-restoring Community Workshop, we decided to gear our work towards devotional and venerative artefacts, a natural extension of Performing Pictures' visual and public installation-based practice. Invited by the ever-so enthusiastic director and conservator, Georgina Saldaña Wonchee, Performing Pictures started a long-term collaboration with the Community Workshop. Several inter-active video shrines with animated saints and apparitions are the result of the artistic, cultural and technical exchange. Together with the artisans we have shaped new outlets for venerative practice that combine crafts with media technology, electronics and animation.

Religious (re-)inventiveness plays a crucial role in the cultural resilience of the indigenous population of Oaxaca. The venerative practices of Zapotecos, Mixtecos and Nahuas, though firmly Catholic in their faith, have repeatedly challenged the sacrament-orientated hierarchies of the Hispanicized clergy. An entire wave of indigenous-controlled image cults and pilgrimage sites was part of an apparitionist movement during the late 19th century.

Gustavo Esteva, the founder of the Universidad de la Tierra, claimed that the work of Performing Pictures in Santa Ana Zegache is only possible within the context of an indigenous community. Interactive video shrines and altarpieces with animated apparitions of La Virgen and saints, technically enhancing the image cult experience and imaging new venerative artefacts, is part of the indigenous religious (re-)inventiveness.

Santa Ana, or simply La Patrona, was the subject for Performing Pictures' latest Zegache workshop in November, 2011. The artisans of the Community Workshop deployed their wood-carving and traditional painting skills into making vivid replicas of the heads and hands of La Patrona and Mary. The animation armature was constructed using a steel ball-and-plate system for the joints. The remaining body parts were also carved in cedar wood as the joints were covered with plasticine for continued flexibility. Clothes were made in the workshop as well, and we ended up using real hair for one of the dolls (!).

A stop-motion studio was set up in the priest’s quarters in order to make the animation which consists of more than 500 still images, where Santa Ana is teaching her daughter to read. The animation was transferred as an app to an iPod touch and placed within a small shrine especially crafted for these kinds of devices. We envisaged the mini-shrine among many other things as the last stop for laid-off smart-phones - to be used as venerative artefacts.

Following this occupation with venerative artefacts, renewable energy has become an increasingly important issue for Performing Pictures' work. Venerative objects should generate energy, not consume it!

Gearing up for larger edifices, the next phase is the construction of two kinetic chapels at the entrance of Santa Ana Zegache. The second chapel, commissioned by the president of the municipality,  will contain the second patron saint of Zegache, el Dulce Nombre.

Building starts in mid-2012.

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