A stunning exhibition of black and white photographs by Mexican photographer Antonio Turok opened recently at the McAIIen International Museum. CHIAPAS: THE END OF SILENCE is a visual diary of Turok's experiences in this southern Mexican state, Which is in many ways a cultural crossroads for the Americas. The region is marked by centuries of differences between modem society and the indigenous communities--most recently with the Zapatista Rebellion, which began in 1994 and reach a new level of urgency with the December 1997 massacre. With this struggle, which continues today in search of a peaceful settlement, the Mayan Indians have ended their centuries-old complaisance and sparked hope for indigenous-rights activists around the world.

While they cannot help but reflect the politics of the region, Turok's photographs transcend mere reportage, echoing the rich history of Chiapas. His portraits of the many different lives and rituals--from barroom fiestas to country funerals, from high society to homelessness--offer a multifaceted view of a social environment so complex as to resemble a hall of mirrors. For centuries Chiapas slumbered quietly in an uneasy status quo--mestizos in urban areas and Maya Indians in the villages. with scant attention from the government in Mexico City. Then, early in this decade the hitherto compliant Mayan majority, afier years of chafmg, rose up and Chiapas became headline news around the world. Antonio Turok had been based in San Cristobal de las Casas for many years when the uprising began and as a professional photographer he had covered the civil war in Nicaragua. Although neither Mestizo nor Maya, but half Mexican and half American from Mexico City, thanks to his long and close association with Chiapanecos he was allowed into no-go areas to chronicle the activities of the guerrillas. This exhibition however does not focus on the uprising. Most of the black and white photographs depict daily life in the towns and villages of Chiapas. He lovingly captures the raucous hilarity of a fiesta, the pathos of a child's flineral, the hard-scrabble life of the poor, and the beauty of the Chiapas highlands. Anyone remotely interested in the recent events in Chiapas should see this exhibit, and of course anyone interested in photography as an art will also be rewarded by the works of an award-winning photographer. He was winner of the 1994 Mother Jones International Documentary Photography Award and is the recipient of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for his work in Chiapas, where he still lives today.

As Turok says in the splendid catalog that comes with this exhibit, "Standing on the edge of joy and despair, Ifocused my lens at people, landscapes, fiestas, and eventually produced abstractions of this extraordinary, ordinary, everyday realitY in shades ofblack and white: the black and white ofopposition the black and white of balance and harmony."

CHIAPAS: THE END OF SILENCE was organized by the Aperture Foundation with finiding from the US-Mexico Fund for Culture. It is presented in collaboration with the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. It will continue through November 1. Until recently most Americans, even those close to the Mexican border, had but a hazy idea, if any, about the south Mexican state of Chiapas.


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