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© Craig Varjabedian

Missionary Position

New exhibit celebrates traditional New Mexico dwellings

March 26, 2013, 12:00 am

Several things make up our unique New Mexico landscape—among them, unique architectural structures and the people who inhabit them. A new exhibit, Missions & Moradas of New Mexico, 1922-2012, opening this Friday at William R Talbot Fine Art, celebrates both.

The annual Easter group show features paintings, drawings, prints and photography from Morris Blackburn, Howard Cook, Lucille Leggett, Ralph Pearson, Craig Varjabedian and Theo White.

“The pieces that I’m showing there culminate from work I did for a period of seven to 10 years,” Varjabedian tells SFR. “[It’s] a mixture of moradas and manifestations of Catholic faith—churches, crosses and that sort of thing.”

His eight pieces for the show, Varjabedian says, spawned from a study he did on the Penitente Brotherhood, which later evolved into a book and a traveling exhibit organized by the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.

Unique to the region, the brotherhood is a lay confraternity that surged after Mexican independence in 1821, upon the departure of Spanish missionaries.

“People were basically left,” the photographer says, adding that the moradas (chapter houses) arose “in order to provide some moral guidance to their villages and mutual aid.”

So, the Penitente Brotherhood was born.

“The brothers strongly identify with what’s known as Christ’s passion,” Varjabedian explains. “They go through personal acts of penance—that’s where the word penitente comes from.”

Varjabedian says that along with shooting the brother houses, meeting and photographing members of the brotherhood and nonmembers alike was a true highlight. Such was the case with santero husband/wife team Eulogio and Zoraida Ortega (pictured).

“She’s passed away since I made that photograph,” Varjabedian, who treasures the moment he snapped the couple, says.

“That’s one of the great things about photography—you go back,” he continues. “Zoraida was cooking that day, and I remember the smell of chile; I remember the light, temperature and the moment I made that specific photograph: the shutter tripped and those looks in their faces appeared.”

Missions & Moradas of New Mexico, 1922-2012
Opens Friday, March 29
William R Talbot Fine Art
129 W San Francisco St., 982-1559


 

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