A little boy is hanging out at home in the living room, toy cars at his feet. Objects and nicknacks adorn the walls, the TV plays in the background: an everyday scene—with one major difference. Sitting opposite him is a strange, otherworldly creature that could very well have just jumped right out of the television screen. The monster is one of the ‘Panzudos’ that lurk in the neighborhood of La Merced in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, México: the imaginary protagonists of Mexican photographer Diego Moreno’s project In My Mind There is Never Silence. Revealing themselves every year on the 22nd of September—the feast day of Our Lady of La Merced—the Panzudos descend onto the streets to purify themselves of their sins.
The way they look depends on the severity of their wrongdoings: the more sins they have committed, the more grotesque and elaborate their appearance is. An important collective ritual in his neighborhood, the flocks of people in fantastical costumes marching the streets with the Virgin Mary occupy a strong place in Moreno’s childhood memories.
As an adult, a fascination for these pre-Hispanic traditions and apocalyptic Catholic visions endured, becoming a vessel for the photographer to pay tribute to a dear great aunt that had passed away. Suffering throughout her life from a rare autoimmune disease called scleroderma that causes visual deformation, she was treated as a pariah by friends and family. Taken in by Moreno and his grandmother, they lived together during the final years of her life.
Moreno’s take on the traditional iconography takes a magical realist twist by bringing the Los Panzudos Mercedarios into the home, planting them at the heart of his family life. “I integrate this imaginary world with the exploration of family dynamics, turning it into a place full of characters that inhabit and connect with the nightmares and fears that come from my personal history,” he explains. Adorned in bright patterns and in all shapes and sizes, Moreno sees these magical figures as figments of his unconscious, transfigured into reality through photography.
At first sight, the Panzudos are peculiar and rather ugly beasts. But in Moreno’s surreal scenarios, that past fits seamlessly into the present as these ghosts become part of the family rather than threatening visitors from another dimension. Peacefully accepted into the domestic sphere, the photographer’s intimate elegy to his late relative points to wider cultural beliefs. “I try to restructure the intricate network between the hidden and the visible,” he reflects. “But it’s also about the connection between the individual and collective unconscious, especially in the contradictory map of the coexistence of cultures in present-day Mexico.”
Editor’s Note: Diego Moreno was selected as a Juror’s Pick in last year’s LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards. You can check out the other winners here, and be sure to submit your own work to this year’s Emerging Talent Awards before the deadline: Wednesday, August 14, 2019!