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Sacabo & Rulfo

OCTOBER 26, 2002 - MARCH 23, 2003
The Unreachable World of Susana San Juan

An homage to Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo in
50 Photoworks by Josephine Sacabo

A 176-page edition of Pedro Páramo marries Juan Rulfo’s novel and Josephine Sacabo’s hand-toned and oil-washed, silver-gelatin photographs in a dual artistic vision of the same unforgettable tale. Margaret Sayers Peden’s superb translation renders the story as poetic and mysterious in English as it is in Spanish. The Wittliff exhibition showcases all fifty of Sacabo’s Páramo-inspired photographs that appear in this volume, from her series entitled El mundo inalcanzable de Susana San Juan (The Unreachable World of Susana San Juan).

The imaginations of Juan Rulfo and Josephine Sacabo were both haunted by Mexico’s deserted rural villages (vestiges of the nation’s rapid urbanization of the 1950s), where images and memories of the past linger like unquiet ghosts. Hailed as the precursor to “magical realism” in Latin American literature, Rulfo’s modern hallucinatory tale is set in one such “village of the mind,” peopled with wisps of characters whose veiled lamentations never quite coalesce into solid storyline.

Instead, voices of the dead intertwine in a timeless mist, leaving the listener’s imagination to flesh out the fragments of two mythic tragedies: one man’s unresolved quest to find his lost father and reclaim his patrimony, and that father’s obsessive love for a woman who will not be possessed--Susana San Juan.

Finding in Rulfo’s dreamscape an eerie familiarity with her native Texas borderlands, Josephine Sacabo set out among the stones of a neighboring ghost town to bring to light (however darkly haloed), the woman’s story--that of Susana, “whose entire discourse is one of memory and delusions, delivered from her tomb. It is the story,” Sacabo proclaims, “of a woman forced to take refuge in madness as a means of protecting her inner world from the ravages of the forces around her: a cruel and tyrannical patriarchy, a church that offers no redemption, the senseless violence of revolution, and death itself. These photographs are my attempt to depict this world as seen through the eyes of its tragic heroine. It is my homage in images to Mexico, to Juan Rulfo, and to Susana San Juans everywhere who will not be possessed.”

Elena Poniatowska, celebrated essayist, journalist and novelist, and one of Mexico’s most widely translated writers, speaks of Sacabo in ways that evoke the mystery of the artist’s multi-layered visions: “A photographer, Josephine Sacabo began to extricate--from the shadows, from the desolate landscapes, from the night sky, from the voices of the stones, from the murmuring of the dead, from the spines of the cactus--not only the patrón, Pedro Páramo, but also Susana San Juan, most luminous of all women, most inaccessible, most deranged, sanest, boldest…. When one looks at the artist’s photographs, it is clear that they are not the work of an illustrator but rather of an illuminata, a widow, a mourner, a tragic heroine, a Texan of ancient Greece.”

Juan Rulfo (1918 -1986), one of Mexico’s most revered authors of the twentieth century, came to define the style of an entire Latin American genre with his first-and-only published novel, Pedro Páramo. Regarded as the “quintessentially Mexican, modernist Gothic,” it became the landmark precursor of “magical realism” after its original printing in 1955. The story has since been published in over twenty-five editions and translated into more than twelve languages.

Josephine Sacabo was reared in Laredo, Texas, in the Mexican ranchero culture about which Rulfo wrote. In addition to New Orleans, where she now lives, her award-winning photographs have been exhibited throughout the world, including Brussels, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Guatemala City, Lausanne (Switzerland), London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, Santa Monica, Toulouse, West Palm Beach, and Woodstock, NY. Sacabo names poetry as the genesis of her subjective/introspective work, and among the poets she counts as her most important influences are Rilke, Baudelaire, Pedro Salinas, Vicente Huidobro, and Juan Rulfo.

The book is available for purchase through the Wittliff Gift Shop.