Dancers of the Desert: Photographs of Chilean Religious Festivals
"Bailarines del desierto" (Dancers of the Desert) is a ten-year-long photographic investigation by Andrés Figueroa of religious festivities in the Chilean "Norte Grande" desert. More than 100 years ago, in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, an especially unique blending and transformation of Catholicism and local cultures spawned various religious festivals known as La Virgen de La Tirana, San Lorenzo de Tarapacá, The Virgin of Ayquina and The Virgin of Las Peña. Drawing large numbers of pilgrims, the festivals center around dance groups from different villages who have spent the whole year rehearsing and preparing for the event.
"The dances can be understood as rites of passage or faith processions, in which the corporal rhythm aligns with the universe. Reverberations of those chants that resound in the bass drums are the heart of the festivity and its vital drive, clarifies Figueroa. Even though there are other festivals that work with the agricultural and breeding cycles in the north of Chile, such as la limpia de canales or el floreo de llamas, the festivities that Figueroa portrays are characterized by their syncretism and, above all, by the participation of pilgrims and pious people.
This process has been an experimentation journey for the photographer, a journey to the depths of our highland roots. A sort of confirmation, he says, not only of heritage and cultural wealth, but also of the community gestures and of love, in a territory that is geographically and socially very harsh. People dance to protect their children and to palliate the harshness of everyday life, to worship their ancestral deities or to keep community cohesion. There is endeavor and resistance. People dance to ask and to serve; many times to keep on feet. That’s how the indigenous, the popular and the mestizo conjugate, always celebrating outdoors (at the church el Canto del Alba is performed and Pasitos are danced), as a symbol for the deities to connect with the territory." —Andrea Jösch
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