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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mennonite Portrait wins 2012 British Taylor Wessing Prize

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© Jordi Ruiz Cirera, 2011-12.
And the prize goes to – a portrait of a Mennonite youth.  Yes, in fact, the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 has gone to London-based, Spanish photographer Jordi Ruiz Cirera for his hauntingly beautiful 2011 photographic portrait of a young Bolivian Mennonite, Magarita Teichroeb. 

    According to Marina Vaizay, the 2012 Taylor Wessing Prize recognizes some 60 recent photographs chosen from among more than 5,000 entries by 2,000 photographers in a blind jurying process.  Cicera’s photograph of the 26-year-old Teichroeb won first prize and a cash award of 15,000, 00 (12,000 or about US $24,000.00).
    Cicera responded to the prize with, "Estoy encantado de la vida" or “I am delighted with life,” adding that he hoped winning the respected prize would help open doors to a career in media photography.  Also according to lainformacion,com, a Spanish-language press source, Cicera spent time amongst the Bolivian Mennonites in 2010 and 2011 developing a photographic essay story, “Menonos” (see link below) that was then published in the European print media.
    Now, as the British press goes, well, let’s just say that in our excitement over the prize, English art critic Marina Vaizay might be forgiven for misidentifying Teichroeb as the member of a mysterious German sect “similar to the Amish of Pennsylvania,” rather than the member of a distinctive Dutch and Swiss ethnic community that would include the Amish of Pennsylvania, or the misnomer that the Mennonites settled into Bolivia “centuries ago,” rather than understanding their settlement there as post-World War II refugees from Europe and as technological separatists from North America. In appreciation for Cirera’s giftedness and Vaizay’s attention to this topic, I hope I can shed some additional light on the background. speaks of Bolivia’s Mennonite’s as being roughly 50,000 in population and having descended from Anabaptists who left Germany in the 16th Century (perhaps the source of Vaizay’s errors). records that Bolivia’s Mennonites are descendants of immigrants from the Mennonite colonies in Chaco, Paraguay, namely Fernheim Colony and Menno Colony, in 1954.  These original 11 families have been joined by many others from Paraguay and Canada throughout the mid-20th Century.  Today, Bolivia’s Low-German or Russländer Mennonite population is estimated at 50,000 with an adult church membership of 18,848 as of 2009 (source
    Being akin to their Amish brethren and sisters [both sects adhering to the Dordrecht Confession of 1623] and both being filial descendants of the common 16th Century Anabaptist movement that swept through Continental Europe, is correct that the Mennonites of Bolivia are considered to be much more conservative than their North American cousins, with many continuing to live a simple subsistence or nominal commercial agrarian lifestyle eschewing many modern technological conveniences such as electricity or automobiles.  Also similar to the Amisher, the Mennonites of Teichroeb’s community/kolonie seem reticent to be photographed.
 Of interest to North America’s Brüderthaler Mennonites is that the Brüderthaler of Oregon, namely Rev. Johnny Reimer, have been instrumental in helping to translate Back-to-the-Bible Broadcasts with Dr. J. Vernon McGee into our shared Plautdietsch language for transmission into the colonies of Bolivia.
     GAMEO quoates Menno Ediger and Isbrand Hiebert, "Colony Mennonites [in Bolivia] have been challenged by difficult conditions to respond nonresistantly to violence and attacks on property.  In spite of problems and an uncertain future, most Mennonites are content to live in Boliva.  The country has been good to them; they have been good for Bolivia.  Bolivia has its own unique history -- how the colonists will fare in that continuing history depends on their willingness and ability to relate to the larger Bolivian society." (ibid).

    Cirera studied photography at la Escuela de diseño Elisava in Barcelona, Spain, before receiving his Master of Arts in photojournalism at the London School of Communication. 
    The 2012 recipients of the Taylor Wessing Prize have been put on display for the public earlier today (08 Nov, 2012) in London’s National Portrait Gallery.
Rembrandt's Catarina Hooghsaet, ca 1656
    Cirera is not the first artist to gain recognition through his or her portraits of Mennonites and Amish.  Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Rijn painted portraits of Amsterdam’s prosperous Mennonite community of the 17th Century, including Waterlander preacher Cornelis Claesz Anslo and arts patron Catrina Hooghsaet, who was raised Mennonite.
    More recently, another photographic essay of Latin America’s growing and increasingly visible Russian Mennonite community was published last year to critical aplomb by Eunice Adorno, in her Las Mujeres Flores, featuring the Mennonites of Chihuahua, Mexico.

    While I, also, find Cirera’s portrait of Margarita compelling in that one cannot tell if she has just finished mourning or if her look is coyly chiding the photographer for catching her is such a harried state, or for even being there at all, I find Margarita’s personal resemblance, from the gesture to the hair to the amused yet reproachful look in her eyes, to my sister Gretchen far too uncanny – even more so as one contemplates that Gretchen is diminutive of Margaret or Margarita.  Perhaps the Russian Mennonites, after all these years, are still too closely related for comfort. 

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