La Cucaracha is the result of Pieter Hugo’s four trips to Mexico over the last two years, each spanning close to a month, with the photographer travelling from the industrialised zone of Mexico City to the desert of Hermosillo and the mountainous regions of Ixtepec and San Cristóbal.
The complexity of the work’s title echoes Pieter’s layered exploration of these thematic concerns. Sung with the deceptive simplicity of a jingle, with lyrics describing a cockroach that cannot walk, La Cucaracha is a folk song of contested origin. Historians have traced it as far back as the 1800s, yet it is accepted that it gained prominence as a satirical metaphor during the Mexican revolution when rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics that commented on the events and effect of the war. Contemporary use of the song has spanned superhero movies, cartoons and recreational drugs. Violence, power, camaraderie and humour find articulation in the song, the country’s attitudes to sex and death, and in Pieter’s images.
“Mexico has a particular ethos and aesthetic, there is an acceptance that life has no glorious victory, no happy ending. Humour, ritual, a strong sense of community and an embrace of the inevitable make it possible to live with tragic and often unacceptable situations.”