Winter Radmissions #5 - Adél Koleszár


Written by Lily Magenis
18 Tuesday 18th November 2014

What are you doing right now?

Right now I’m starting a new project in Mexico. I was one of the nine finalists of the Ideastap and Magnum photographic award, and in the next six months I can create my dream project with their support. I plan to picture how violence has influenced faith in Mexico. I’ll study saints like Santa Muerte, who is the protector of social outsiders and criminals, and Jesus Malverde, who is the patron saint of the poor and of drug traders. I’ll also be looking at bloody chaotic celebrations and other devilish things. 

It’s a very interesting topic for me, as I think this unique spirituality reflects Mexico’s violent history and brutal present. And yet these problems maintain the search for hope in faith, since most of the population cannot find hope in anything else. 

What was the reason behind your move from Hungary to Mexico City?

I was tired of my life in Hungary. Just to make a decent living in that country is very hard, especially if you want to work in a creative field. Over the past six years, I did all I could to provide for myself as a photographer. I had to do a lot of shitty jobs on the side, which burned me out creatively, and I could live only day by day from my salary. I knew it wasn’t worth it. 

I wanted to move but didn’t know where, so I was looking for artist residencies everywhere in the world. One day my old uni sent me an email about an artist residency program in Mexico. I’m obsessed with dark topics and surreal situations, so Mexico seemed like a perfect spot. I’ve lived here for more than a year by now, I love it too much. I have never been so happy in my life.   

Tell us something we might not know about Mexico City.

Mexico city is like a bubble, where you rarely feel affected by all the very deep shit going on in the country lately. But you still have a very colourful, surreal, surprising Mexican culture all around you. On the other hand it’s also getting more and more international, and it’s full of ex-pats. 

Let me tell you some cool facts: Mexico City lies in a valley surrounded by hills and volcanoes. Some parts were built on a lake, those are sinking now, like the historical centre. The city has a huge gay community despite old-fashioned views of sex and marriage. Gay marriage is legal in the capital, which is very fun.

A lot of your pics are of living rooms, bedrooms, little shrines. How have you gained access to these personal spaces?

Shrines are all over, on the streets, in public buildings, inside yards of housing estates. The others, like living rooms and bedrooms are properties of friends where I could spent time during my travels. 

Speaking of shrines, and with Day of the Dead just gone, how does the country's views on death differ from Europe?

They’re totally different, like totally opposite. Death has been a very important and celebrated event in their culture since the pre-hispanic times, and it still is. The strong connection with death is  incorporated into their religion and faith. I think things like Day of the Dead make you believe they are not afraid to face their own mortality. Having fun with skulls, blood all over, celebrating and drinking in the graveyards, making colourful decorations, all that stuff. But I’m pretty sure a personal loss hurts just as much, and it doesn’t help that violence is killing thousands at far too young an age.

Talk us through your favourite photograph

I’d already started to work on my new series for the contest. A photographer friend of mine told me about a devil worship party near Mexico City, so we decided to go and document it. On the first Friday night, they had a decent party, like eating, drinking, smoking in a church, having mariachis playing while people worship a devil statue. It wasn’t much different from a traditional Day of the Dead celebration. 

The next day was more surprising, because of something called a soul cleaning. The leader began a really ancient, devilish ritual, where he put a women into a fire circle surrounded by strange signs, candles and bones from humans and horses. After a while he cut the back of the lady with blades, drawing symbols with her blood and sometimes hitting her. The photo shows the leader who made the cleaning. The story of the woman was very interesting as well. She had a six-month-old baby in her belly, and doctors told her she needed to choose between herself or her baby because of the child’s health issues. 

She told the doctors to kill the kid, because she already had one which she needed to care for. But afterwards, she prayed to Santa Muerte, asking her to save the unborn baby. She gave birth. The baby was two and a half months premature but it lived. 

She’d asked for help from the devil, so now her soul needed to be cleansed.                  

Check out more of Adél's work on her tumblr.

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