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“La Benedición”

Flor Gardûno
Mexican, b. 1957

Ilsa del Sol, Bolivia, 1990
Gelatin silver print
98.27

SSWB 3692

Born in Mexico City but raised on a farm, Flor Gardûno believes that contact with nature and animals shaped her character. As a young adult she worked as darkroom assistant to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and later, at the Department of Public Education, worked under the supervision of Mariana Yampolsky. Yompolsky’s images illuminate Mexico's indigenous communities and she sent Gardûno into remote rural zones to find appropriate themes for schoolbooks. In the mid-eighties and early 90s, Gardûno ventured further afield to rural areas of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. “La Benedición” or “the Blessing,” was made in this period on the Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

The quiet but luminous center of this photograph is a small white flower held over a small white cup. The hands that hold it are brown and worn and emerge from western suit sleeves over which drapes a wool serape-like garment. We do not see a face. These details reveal the syncretic history of the region. The hands, flower and serape are indigenous but the suit is a European import. Although the gesture of blessing by sprinkling water may appear Catholic to Euro-American viewers (Catholicism was introduced into Bolivia in the 16th century), this figure is a Bolivian Yatiri, a medical practitioner and community healer, shown at right. Yatiri use many materials in their practice including coca flowers, as in La Benedición. Knowing the identity of the figure in La Benedición helps us understand the action taking place but the image also stands on its own as a reverential artifact. Gardûno has said that the realms of the ordinary and symbolic intersect in her photographs and come together as poetic forms that encourage contemplation.

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