For art lovers, the destination often provides the thrill—the gallery or museum that is the repository of wondrous works of world-class paintings sculpture, photographs and the gamut of art.
But in those rare instances, the exception to the rule is the journey. When that path is 13 years in the making, it is all the more remarkable.
A new exhibit at Paper Lion Gallery offers the payoff—an extensive collection of photographs by Dilmar Mauricio Gamero Santos entitled, “Mamacha Carmen,” the festival of the Lady of Mount Carmel.
Here, the sun’s spectacular rise out of the night sky foretells the events to unfold over the coming five days in a ritualistic festival that has gone on for over 300 years. Out of the jungle is where the sun rises at 13,000 feet while the townspeople of Paucartambo awaken. Far below, at just 2,000 feet above sea level, the appearance looking up at the sun seems as though it’s “dancing” and thus starts the festivities of Mamacha Carmen.
At this juncture, the townspeople start their pilgrimage through town signifying the start of the tradition that has endured three centuries. This perfect picture of the sun “jumping for joy” is to honor the Blessed Lady of the Virgin Mary. It captures the mood and spirit of the entire procession as it makes its way through the town as night turns into day. The sky at the top of the world is scintillatingly surreal in that majestic moment.
The festival in Paucartambo, Peru, blends tradition, ritual and customs into a morality play of sorts. It pits an entire town of people portraying two different sides, good and evil. “The Ones on High” reside in the highlands and struggle against the low-lying townspeople over the domain for the statue of the Blessed Virgin Lady. They fight for possession of the statue to reside safely in its church sanctuary. The weeklong event unfolds in a highly orchestrated manner, paying strict attention to detail and execution.
The origin of the festival dates to the Incas and mysteries that surround their lost civilization. The Incas were the indigenous people who lived in what today is Cuzco, which is 2½ hours away from Paucartambo. The statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the outward sign of the relationship between the Virgin Mary and her faithful townspeople who pledge to protect her at all costs. What ensues from July 15 through July 19 each year is worthy of a two-hour documentary film at Sundance and if artist, photographer Dilmar Mauricio Gamero Santos, native of Peru, has anything to do with it, that dream someday may come true.
Gallery owner Chuck Schulz had the good fortune of meeting Gamero Santos while he pursued his graduate degree at Temple University in Philadelphia. Fellow gallery owners Bill Grace and Jim Hadfield were equally astounded by the level of ritual and traditions witnessed at the July 2018 festival and equally effusive about the extensive lengths the artist had gone to in capturing the essence of commitment and passion that the entire town brings anew every summer to its reenactment.
From the full participation in creating each elaborate costume to the dance routines, the festival draws its energy from the townspeople’s investment of time and love, which adds up to memories for the participants and viewers alike. They fully commit to historical accuracy in handing down the customs to future generations.
The festival’s customs rely on intricate choreography as 19 groups of costumed dancers representing various professions (bakers, doctors and nurses, etc.) all weave their way to engage with the others dressed as devils and jokers. Even yellow-faced masked dancers represent illness contracted from yellow fever; the power of the nurse is symbolic of the power of the Virgin Mary. The 30 funerary towers that dot the landscape are remarkable structures and provide the portals between the living and the dead. The culmination of the festival takes place with a symbolic killing of a bull. The festival plays out on such a grand scale that the population of the town, which normally boasts just 3,000 residents, swells to over 20,000 for the five-day celebration.
Gamero Santos incorporated all facets of documented materials into a multimedia format. He created a tribute to preserving the secular sense of community to the sacred aspects of identity, which marries Andean ritual to Catholic traditions. The color photograph of the white masked dancers performing Qonoy, dancing around the circle of fire, provide a colorful glimpse of what life down under may entail if the statute is captured by the other side.
Gamero Santos literally wraps up his 13-year journey in a collection of five individual spiritual boxes that are called “demandas,” which contain the sacred figure of the Mamacha Carmen in one box and four groups of her dancers in each of the others. In being true to his vision, Gamero Santos hand-wrought the five boxes as an articulated metaphor for the demandas.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of Gamero Santo’s photographic process is the transfer of the image from black and white to form the frontispiece of the handmade wooden “demandas” boxes. Its appearance is almost like a phantasma, which only adds to the allure of the festival’s charm. His life’s work is a tribute to the Incan people and to Mamacha Carmen, resulting in an unsurpassed collection of curatorial craftsmanship that needs to be seen by all the tribes of the world.
The languages may vary from place to place. The way we present ourselves to the world may be uniquely different. For, in the end, we are all one tribe, universal—the people who inhabit Earth, whether in the jungle, the highlands or down in the valley. We are all works of art, and art makes the world go round no matter what corner of the world we call home.
“Mamacha Carmen: the Festival of the Lady of Mount Carmel” runs through Nov. 2 at the Paper Lion Gallery, 1217 Hummel Ave., Lemoyne. For more information, visit www.harrisburgframers.com or the Facebook page.