Little is known about “La Maroma,” a traditional religious ceremony in southern Mexico that strangely resembles a circus. What we do know is that in rural areas of the Oaxaca and Puebla states, people travel high into the mountains to be a part of the artistic performance, which includes clowns, poetry and even acrobatics. Why do they do it? That’s a little less clear.
When Mexico City photographer Walter Shintani first read about Maroma (literally translated as “cartwheel”) in the newspaper, he was immediately intrigued, and he knew he had to learn more about the strange ceremony. He quickly contacted people from the area and scheduled time to see a performance.
The main interest for me in this subject—at the beginning of it at least—was to try to bring the people “alive” as this tradition is no longer followed by the younger generations. The idea of clowns in the mountains was a bit surrealistic and I wanted to make it visible, so I traveled around the region to achieve this.
Walter got the performers to open up to him and feel more comfortable by bringing them pictures and connecting with them on everyday issues. He also thoroughly prepared for each visit before he went over—regular phone calls and emails with the fixers helped him stick to the plan. While the idea of clowns as part of a religious ceremony seems foreign to us, the tradition is practiced among several cultural groups in Mexico. Hundreds of years ago during the Spanish conquest, Maroma was very popular, but faded out as the country developed, so performances like the ones here are becoming more rare.
Walter said people who have seen the photos have been surprised, since the subject is little known, even in Mexico. He plans to continue shooting the project, and in the future, he’d like to take a different approach to the characters in the series—possibly even bring them into his studio and photograph them in a different way.
To see more of Walter’s work, visit wshintani.com.