Travel Diary

Santa Muerte in Mexico City with Marina Nacamuli

@marinanacamuli

"I am still absorbing everything I saw, felt, and learned, all the beautiful people I met. I was very careful with everything from the beginning. I researched and spoke to everyone I found that had been there. I’m extremely thankful for this day: December 1st, 2020, and the beautiful people that then entered my life. Vuelvo pronto, amigos."

Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (Spanish for Our Lady of the Holy Death), often shortened to Santa Muerte, is a cult image and folk saint in Mexican Neo-paganism and folk catholicism. She is a personification of death and is associated with healing, protection, and safe delivery to the afterlife. Santa Muerte is the patron saint of the outcasts - protector of all perpetrators of delinquency and of those who feel neglected by society.

Mexicans see the Dia de Muertos as a time to invite the dead to return to the living and celebrate the life they once lived with those they have left behind. This should not be confused with the annual celebration “Day of the Dead”. Instead the cult of Santa Muerte host a monthly celebration which takes place in the cult’s epicenter, in Tepito - the city’s most dangerous neighbourhood. Most of her devotees are under the age of 30, and they are women, who arrive on their knees paying promise, and so, lined up, they go to the altar offering marijuana, tequila, and flowers. They created their own religious codes and icons, nurturing their identities and practices.

About 1 year ago, photographer Marina Nacamuli, read about the Santa Muerte and immediately knew it would take her to Mexico. Making sure she was careful with everything from the beginning, Marina made sure she immersed herself in the community by researching and speaking to everyone. We chat to her about her experience of the festival and the meaning behind some of the photographs she has shared with us from the trip.

Chimalito performs for us
Believers holding their personalized Santa Muertes, each color and tone symbolize success, money, love or health.
Believers holding their personalized Santa Muertes, each color and tone symbolize success, money, love or health.
Believers offer marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes as a form to purify.
Believers offer marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes as a form to purify.
#14 - Building in the main street of where the celebration happens, Calle Alfarería.

What was the reason for the trip?

My reason for the trip was to photograph the event, which happens every 1st of the month. I had heard about it one year prior, and it stayed with me. In July, my father passed away, and I felt I needed to understand more about death. Santa Muerte was a dream and as soon as I got a chance, I went (December 1st, 2020).

Was this your first time in Santa Muerto? If yes, what were your first impressions? If no, what keeps you coming back?

It was my first time in Santa Muerte. I had done a lot of research before going, and I was able to speak to many people who had been there - so I knew what I would see. Of course I didn't know how difficult it would be to photograph. I took about 1 hour after I arrived to take my first portrait.

Is there anyone you met on your trip that’s made a lasting impression?

Two amazing photographers I met online took me to the celebration, not everyone is allowed to go in. They became my friends, and introduced me to everyone in the barrio of Tepito. Inside, everyone I met there was unbelievable and unforgettable. It was one of the most special days of my life! Tepito is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Mexico, but I felt safe, welcomed, and people also wanted to hear about my story.

What’s in your camera collection?

I have about 25 cameras in my collection, and I started shooting and collecting around 2002. But my favourites are for sure each and everyone of my Contax's (I have the t3, t4 and g2).

Alberto "Paleta Stain" Bocanegra show me all of his Santa Muerte tattoos. He explains he has 2 more to be tattooed - so he'll have 13.
Alberto "Paleta Stain" Bocanegra show me all of his Santa Muerte tattoos. He explains he has 2 more to be tattooed - so he'll have 13.

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