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Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo, Mänk’áčen

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Toumayacha Alakana: This expression is the origin of Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo's work, which led to the completion of a thesis in photography. It means "looking with the head covered by a veil." This is how the Fuegians referred to the act of photographing in the 19th century when they first saw cameras with operators who arrived in South America starting in 1840.

What names did the local peoples give to these new image-objects? How was this unknown tool perceived? What does it mean to be looked at with the head covered by a veil?

The European photographic collections showing these ancestral Americas bear witness to colonialism and the sociopolitical context of the countries involved regarding the "indigenous" communities. These communities have partly lost their culture, their economic autonomy, and their territory. But they also testify to a unique history concerning not only the use of the technique but also the relationship to knowledge and beliefs that characterize the culture of these people from the "end of the world," as well as the conditioning of our gaze and knowledge about these same peoples.

To say that Native Americans do not want to be photographed, especially because "it will steal their soul," is a colonial myth; this Western belief added value to the images that explorers brought back. The issue of refusing cameras is much more complex and varied: resistance can be about the act of taking the picture, the circulation of one's image, the unilateral nature of the transaction, the misunderstanding of the device, and political and spiritual consequences.

Mänk’áčen ("the shadow hunter" in the Yahgan language) thus presents the results of the artist/researcher and exhibition curator Sergio Valenzuela Escobedo, and also relies on an ethnographic archive to defend the thesis of the existence of a "mystical mechanics."

Published by Palais Books in 2022