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Tierra Santa: A Photography Exhibition by Guille Ibáñez, Instituto Cervantes 31st January - 3rd April 2018

Zoë McLean


“… and always excessive.” These closing words of Ibáñez’s artist statement underpin the exhibition. Awash with colour, from a distance the images evoke a plethora of emotion, tradition and juxtaposition. A closer look is rewarded with vivid detail: a journey through time and culture as the lens becomes a tool to reconnect with a heritage, capturing a vibrant blend of old and new. “I have discovered a country of duality,” Ibáñez says. “A country which reflects the contradictions in my own character.”


Pursuing this duality — these ancient traditions rooted in many different pasts, carried out in the modern day — it seems something is kept alive in the acts presented, the actors as sure of themselves as they are of their roles, zipping the two together, not sacrificing anything.


There’s a quiet humour, a wittiness, present in many of the images; timeless moments of almost pantomime passion: modern clothes and gumshields in a mass street scrum; a background iPhone-grapher in Almonacid del Marquesado, Castilla La Mancha; a couple of civilians centre-shot, casually chatting to each other between two robed men and a huge black cross; in Alsasua, Navarra, a woman’s young and vibrant eyes gaze straight into the camera from behind her ‘bloody’ mask — a white sheet cut at the eyes and mouth and smeared a menacing red.


Another from Alsasua, probably the most abstract of all the images — a head — white, horned and shaggy-furred, lit up against an azure sky, the back of a bull’s perhaps? Is someone wearing it or is the photographer riding it? Proceed to the raw and grotesque in Baza, Andalucía; the rugged ox-like torso of a man, fists clenched by his side, the dirt and thick carpet of matted hair sharply contrasted against its stone background, so close that you can almost feel the grit between your teeth. A clean line trails down his middle where sweat has pooled and rivered between his pectoral muscles, carrying the grime of work away.


But it is not all wit and grit, the images also carry a tenderness, a normality around the edges: in El Rocío, Andalucia, a hand clasps the back of a neck amidst a writhing crowd; in Torre del Mar, two young boys watch from one window as from another a woman, their mother maybe, lowers a large image of Mary and Jesus. A lace tablecloth dries on the window ledge.


The images are punchy, powerfully human, endlessly vibrant and often surprising. I took my six-month-old daughter with me when I visited the exhibition. A number of times she reached out of her sling to wave at a subject. I told her they were waving back, in their way.


Zoë McLean

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