* Image above by CCMC, via La Plaza.
Spanish photographer Isabel Muñoz went to document the Maras of El Salvador. An exhibit of her work was up at Centro Cultural del Mexico Contemporaneo in the Centro Historico behind the Templo Santo Domingo until the end of December. We caught it on December 31.
The show featured a series of arresting large-scale portraits of Maras, male and female (some pregnant), highlighting the extreme tattooing that distinguishes soldiers in the multinational gang. Muñoz also shot many Maras in their domestic spaces -- which is to say, in prison -- offering a look at their visual surroundings: layers of murals on ceilings and walls depicting demons and Satan, clowns, naked women, Death, and tombstones for their departed homies. The murderous Mara Salvatrucha of course was founded on the streets of the MacArthur Park-Pico Union area of inner Los Angeles, by surviving refugees of the Salvadoran Civil War. As many were deported back to Central America by subsequent anti-gang crackdowns in the U.S., the gang's reach globalized, along with that of 18th Street. You didn't get much of this crucial context in the show. What were we supposed to feel for these guys? Empathy? Fear? Disgust? Pity?
I asked a Salvadoran American artist friend for thoughts: