Abstract: ‘My grandmother is not a ‘corpse’: The forgotten dead of a Megalopolis’
The cemetery space could be argued or understood to be a social, political, socio-culturally dynamic and sociomythic space, yet when the dead die alone, without identity, then a cemetery takes on a darker and sinister twist. My paper explores how a cemetery in a megalopolis such as Mexico City turns into a waste dump for the carcass of the human body. In this context if a person in Mexico City is unknown and its body unclaimed by its family or friends, the dead ends striped of its role as a social person, dehumanised and treated as waste, a corpse or a pile of bones, striped of its human dignity. There are instances more common than not were the dignity and humanity of the dead has been excluded from the overall complexity of current Mexican funerary practices. This paper will look particularly at the forgotten dead that find their final resting place in common unmarked graves, such as the ones located in Panteón Civil de Dolores, Mexico D.F.
This paper addresses why people persist in maintaining a relationship with their dead, exploring the social and cultural tools that are used to extend the dead’s biographical narratives such as secular and religious commemorative objects and the photographic portrait. ‘Not letting go’ is of fundamental value for my research participants as striping the dead from their humanity could place us in danger of excluding ourselves from becoming dynamic members of the human community when we die.
Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Upstairs @ the RAI, Friday 31 October, 2014, 5pm
Research Seminar followed by some tasters with Dr Marcel Reyes-Cortez, Goldsmiths, University of London
In Mexico City, the dead are very present in popular culture and are manifested in the spaces of the living, for example in art, photography, cinema, literature, music, gastronomy and political rhetoric. Claudio Lomnitz argues that death and the dead in Mexico have been turned into a national ‘totem’. This social phenomenon has developed some unique social and cultural practices. This seminar will show how people symbolically represent the dead in order to include them in their social and living spaces and create memory and immortality through material culture and photographic portraits.
Through daily and yearly cycles, people develop and maintain intricate rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Alvaro Obregon, Mexico City. The conjoined landscapes of the living and the dead are spaces of personal and collective grief, charged with emotions, loaded with ethical and moral obstacles and obligations. Based on his PhD field research, Marcel Reyes-Cortez documents the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. This involves long-term relationships and a range of activities (cemetery workers, flower-growers, coffin makers, etc.).
Please book your free place: http://rai-day-of-the-dead.eventbrite.com
Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
London, W1T 5BT, United Kingdom
Abstract: ‘Visual research in the cemeteries of Mexico City: Photography, a social research method’
My visual research project explores how through daily and yearly cycles, the bereaved, mourners and workers develop and maintain intricate funerary rituals involving the dead buried in the cemeteries of Mexico City. Commemorative visual and material culture both religious and secular already plays an important role in mourners’ everyday life and activities. A more extensive use of the photograph and the practice of photography became a valuable social research tool, especially when looking at the exchanges and interactions between the dead, memory and the visual material worlds that assist the living, the dead and the ánima (spirit/soul) to stay connected in the spaces in which they interact.
I have chosen to explore the above social and cultural processes in part through a visual methodology, documenting meticulously through photographs as well as text the numerous ways in which the living and the dead remain connected over generations. The practice of photography eased and speeded the entry into the cemetery and mourners private and public spaces, it also opened access to the possibilities of collaboratory encounters within the field and with those people with whom I was working. Thus, I examined and extensively recorded through photography the cyclical memorialising and mourning practices, ritualised routines, and daily habits associated with the dead and the cemetery space in the borough of Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City. A visual methodology in combination with traditional ethnographic methods such as participant observation, formal and informal interviews, investigation of life histories of the bereaved, mourners, visitors and workers with an overview of contemporary Mexican funerary practices in Mexico City offered the project a productive instrument, providing a more nuanced understanding of the bereaved and mourner’s ideas about their relationships with the dead.
11-14 April 2012: ‘European Social Science History Conference’
Programme: University of Glasgow