Moving With Images: Santa Muerte and Transnationalism

What happens when devotional images travel across the border? What is the incommensurability between the devotional image and the experience of migration? How does the Mexican Nation become redefined through the study of folk Catholicism as travels back and forth across the border? In this presentation, I propose to explore the ways in which Santa Muerte devotion and the saint’s images have been crossing the border between the United States and Mexico. Drawing on my ethnography in Oaxaca de Juárez, a place known for high levels of migration, I will examine the nexus of relationships with the devotional image and the question of intimacy, intimacy with the saint, intimacy with oneself perhaps through devotion, family intimacy, intimacy with the deceased through images and intimacy with the nation. My argument is that all these spheres overlap constantly in connection with the images as it moves across the border. Ultimately, by looking at the ways in which the image operates as it transits, my goal is to interrogate the notion of Nation-State and the Mexican identity as it is experienced outside of Mexico. Taking the image as an ethnographic lens, I ultimately look at how the sovereign may be dislocated and transferred through religious visual prisms. The image thus becomes methodology as well as an object of ethnographic enquiry into the Nation.

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