Mike Marrero grew up in Key West surrounded by La Regla de Ocha or Santeria and tales of The Saints. These were not the Christian Saints you are most likely familiar with. They are the Yoruba Gods and Goddesses brought from West Africa.
These are The Saints that exact the knowledge that seven ears of corn placed in a brown paper bag and then burned in the sand could bring you good luck.
Mike learned about Chango (the owner of fire, lightening, thunder and war, also patron of music and dance) and Santa Barbara (syncretized with Chango) and O’Batala, (Sky Father and creator of all The Saints or Orishas). They are an inseparable part of his heritage and the cultural fabric of this island.
His goal with this exhibit was to recreate The Saints, not as they are, but as he imagined them as a child. How he saw them through the prism of his memories and his family’s beliefs.
Marrero trains his camera on his native island and draws inspiration from his childhood memories, capturing the pathos of ordinary life as it was then, with a sophistication that belies his generation.
As Marrero matures as a photographer, playwright, film maker and father his fast evaporating roots mean more to him than ever.
This series of works pulls from my Cuban upbringing as well as the ever changing diversity and gentrification of my island heritage. Like the majority of small towns and once isolated populations, I have watched our island culture become absorbed, sanitized and homogenized for safe consumption.
The Saint Series takes a very specific aspect of that disappearing culture, the Santeria religion, and explores it through both my childhood memories and my adult feelings of loss and defiance. At one time Santeria was the dominant religion of the Caribbean. The slaves of Africa brought their native religions with them and once they arrived they hid their religion behind Catholicism, synchronizing their Gods with the Catholic Saints. I find the aspect of native culture having to hide in plain site both powerful and heartbreaking in equal measure. Santeria has faded into the forgotten corners in many cultures but, in my youth, it was just as important as any mainstream religion. I grew up, like so many others, believing a penny soaked in honey and buried in a paper sack would bring back lost love
For this project I first pulled inspiration from my personal history. The goal was not a faithful recreation of the Saints but the transference of my childhood memories. I then drew upon compositions to encapsulate both the sense of wonder I used to feel and the defiance and pride of a tradition fighting for survival. Next, I sought out friends, family-members, and strangers whose stories and life experiences most closely matched the Saint whose spirit I was attempting to capture.
Although created with a modern tool, the digital camera, the final result is an analog experience. The tension between modern tools and an analog finish both contrasts and adds strength to the final images. Through faded sepia the Saints reach out to us. They fight and struggle, like so many of us in this modern world, to not be forgotten.