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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

La Santa Muerte

SMGP 2020 Program by Ricardo Salido

Tired of Begging: Devotion to La Santa Muerte in Mexico City

2020 Student Media Grant Program


Rodrigo Salido is a Doctoral Student in the Department of History (expected graduation 2024) at The University of Texas at Austin.  

Project Website: www.rsmoulinie.com/santamuerte

Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint, “canonized” by no one, but a Saint still. She emerged as a popular figure in Mexico City at the beginning of the twenty-first century and became mainstream during the security crisis in Mexico that started in 2007. Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death,” rapidly became a patron for people living on the edge of life and death in violent contexts—a protector of the dispossessed and marginalized groups: sexual workers, soldiers, policemen, smugglers, drug-traffickers, cancer patients without insurance. In a world where violence and shameless inequality are the norm, Santa Muerte is seen as an equalizer. “It doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are,” a devotee told me, “she will take us anyway.” Represented as a white female skeleton dressed in fabrics of different colors, her image appears suddenly in many corners of Mexico City: street altars, small figures, tattooed skins, home-made shrines, she appears printed on handguns and candles. But her troubling image and the lifestyles of some infamous believers (such as high-profile drug-traffickers and criminals) contributed to the stigmatization of her devotees: they are all seen as narcos. The Mexican government’s tendency to dehumanize all people involved in drug-trafficking is evident in speeches and announcement decrying victims of the Drug War as traitors, cockroaches, and animals. This national narrative has propelled stigma towards Santa Muerte devotees, instilling fear and discrimination.


In this project, Rodrigo intends to photograph believers of Santa Muerte. He will depict these poorly understood objects and spaces of devotion: the statuettes, the ink on their skins, the public shrines and paintings. Tired of Begging will use Santa Muerte as a common thread to connect a diverse set of stories of conflict, violence, displacement, poverty and urban marginalization. Rather than framing her as merely a narco-saint (as the Mexican and US media and security agencies usually do), these intimate portraits will highlight the wide range of uncertainties, conflicts, and policy outcomes that give Santa Muerte her power and allure.

Blogs and more Santa Muerte photography will be available soon, as Rodrigo is completing his SMGP project in Mexico City.  


STUDENT MEDIA GRANT PROGRAM
Conflict through the Lens of Student Journalists

Blog by Johanna Roman
Student Media Grant Manager, The Center on Conflict and Development (ConDev) at Texas A&M University


Travel and photography go hand in hand. For many students who dream of visiting foreign lands to capture amazing moments with their lenses, the opportunity to win a travel grant to move their photography skills forward is very appealing. Students competing for the Center on Conflict and Development’s Student Media Grant are not necessarily wanting to photograph beautiful scenery or take portraits of people smiling. They do not want to document moments of happiness. They want to capture the effects of conflict on places and people.

Since 2013, ConDev’s Student Media Grant Program has served as a launch pad for aspiring young photojournalists to explore different corners of the world that have been affected by conflict issues. ConDev has funded a wide variety of projects. Young students from around the world have completed programs focusing on topics like the injustices of food insecurity; the devastating effects of war; the hardships of migration, and other critical issues affecting fragile communities in the developing world.

Photo by Ruth Matamoros, SMGP Grantee

Photo by Ruth Matamoros, SMGP Grantee

As a practitioner of international development who grew up in a small country in Central America affected by over three decades of civil war, I know that it takes a special kind of person to have the sensitivity needed to witness and moreover, take pictures of other people’s sufferings. It takes courage to capture the devastation and hardships of the aftermath of insurgency or war through a lens. Young students must be brave to be able to chronicle critical issues that global communities are facing such as the migration or refugee crisis; political and domestic violence; and so many other types of problems stemming from conflict. I think it even takes more courage to set the camera aside and listen to peoples’ stories. 

The Student Media Grant Program offers grants for student photojournalists to cover difficult topics in conflict-affected countries through compelling photo stories. As the SMGP Program Manager, my favorite part of this experience is when students return from completing their projects and submit their work. I am amazed by their ability to capture the world as it really is. Their cameras might be focusing on a particular person or scene, but their eyes are scanning what really is happening before and after and their minds take mental images of those moments. Each picture can open discussions about the students’ experience engaging with real-life characters being protagonists of situations that are sometimes very difficult and so very different from their own.

ConDev has funded over thirty SMGP programs, each very unique. Below are some highlights of recent successful projects completed by several students. 

 

Maryanna Nascimento from Brazil received a Student Media Grant in 2018 to travel to Guatemala to conduct her Photo with Coffee SMGP project. She traveled through this multiethnic and pluricultural country to offer photography workshops for kids.

"In 2018, I received a Student Media Grant from Texas A&M University’s Center on Conflict and Development to develop the project Photo with Coffee: Guatemalan Children telling their Stories. For two months, I conducted analogue photography workshops in schools in vulnerable neighborhoods in Guatemala. Around 35 students, from 7 to 14 years old, were part of the activities. It was the first time that I worked with participatory photography. The experience made me understand the career path I wanted to follow. Consequently, I applied for a master's degree in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia. During my course, I gained knowledge to analyze more critically the work that I conducted in Guatemala. For my dissertation, I decided to reflect on this experience based on literature in participatory communication. The dissertation will empirically analyze the practical challenges of participatory communication and the impact on the participants’ lives three years later, giving particular attention to critical awareness and empowerment subjects. The Student Media Grant was the first step I gave to a career path that I didn't even know could be named and was waiting for me."

Jorge Choy from the University of Texas at Austin completed his project in the Southern border in Mexico. His lens captured images of migrants crossing the river into Mexico, and he was able to learn about the struggles that migrants face and their desire for a better life as they escape from high poverty rates and violence. Jorge produced award-winning photos that provide a glimpse into the migration crisis.  

 

 

“The Student Media Grant from the Center for Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University funded my photo essay. This funding allowed me to capture some stories amid the increasing restriction in the Central American - US migratory corridor. Since policies and practices have exacerbated vulnerabilities of migrants as they journey north, these photographs help to understand some of the many faces and stories that transit and reside in this part of the Guatemala-Mexico border.”

 

Alexis Aubin from University of Montreal, documented the impact of landmines on survivor's from the Colombian war. Through his pictures he raised awareness about the collateral damages and long-term effect of war in Colombia.

“Landmines are different from every other weapon. They are not made to kill but to mutilate, to dismember, to generate fear... They are the only weapons activated by the victim. A Wounded Land explored the landmine issue in Colombia and how it affected the local populations and their relationship with the land. When we think about war we usually think about the fronts, but wars are much more complex and affect people in many ways and for many generations after the cessation of hostilities.”

Those are just a few examples of the good work produced by young photojournalists. We are hoping to inspire more students to apply for this grant program.

Our Student Media Grant Program's application period opens each September. This year we want to particularly encourage students from universities within the Texas A&M System to apply. After these past months of confinement and travel restrictions, we cannot wait to support their dreams of visiting foreign lands and make a difference through the art of photography. 

Need inspiration? Visit our SMGP section to read about all the wonderful projects that have been completed through the years.

This photojournalism grant is funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation Chair on Conflict and Development.

For more information about the SMGP, please visit: https://condev.tamu.edu/Education/Student-Media-Grant

  

 

 

This website is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development. The contents are the sole responsibility of ConDev, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

 

 

 

 

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