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Between Good and Evil: The Dancing Devils of Venezuela

Bolivar Hall - Londres
20/4/2004 12:00:00 a.m.

Every year on the Feast of Corpus Christi a group of men and boys from the small town of San Francisco de Yare dress in red and don papier mache devil masks to act out an ancient mystery play that pits good against evil. This ancient tradition has its roots in Medieval Spain but over the last 300 years it has evolved into something uniquely Venezuelan.

These are the Dancing Devils of Yare and all of them have sworn a solemn promise before the Holy Sacrament to dance for a number of years, or for life, in return for the health of a loved one. They take their dancing seriously, to ward off the presence of evil while dressed as devils they wear amulets, rosaries and palm crosses.

As one of Venezuela's most colourful folk festivals, the Dancing Devils of Yare have attracted the interest of writers, photographers, artists, anthropologists and tourists. That interest is reflected in the texts and photographs brought together by the curator of the show Russell Maddicks. Testimonies of a living tradition In 1935, Venezuela's most famous writer Rómulo Gallegos described the Dancing Devils of Yare in a vivid scene from his novel "Pobre Negro". In the 1950s Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, who lived for many years in Caracas, was also inspired by them.

The first professional photographs of the festival were taken by Ricardo Razetti, who helped spread its fame beyond the boundaries of the town. In 1947 and 1948 Gonzalo Plaza and Francisco Edmundo Pérez took a whole series of grainy images that were featured in the newspapers of the time.

Following in their footsteps is Jesús Ochoa, a young contemporary photographer who makes the most of the vibrant reds that fill the town on Corpus Christi.

British artist Stig Evans, who lived and worked in Venezuela for three years, made a series of sketches in Yare that has had a profound effect on his work.

Over the years he has returned many times to these drawings which have served as the inspiration for watercolours, monoprints and paintings.

The etchings exhibited here follow the progress of the Corpus Christi festival from the high-spirited antics of the devils as they caper through town to the solemn moment that they bow down to the Holy Sacrament at the doors of the church.

Evans' images complement the photographs and texts in the exhibition, and stand as another testimony of this important and historic ritual. In 2004 the Corpus Christi celebrations in Yare will fall on 9-10 June, and to celebrate it here in England the cultural centre of the Venezuelan Embassy has organized an exhibition that sheds light on the history of this living tradition.

"Between Good and Evil: The Dancing Devils of Venezuela" will include etchings by British artist Stig Evans, archive photographs by Venezuelan photographers Ricardo Razetti, Gonzalo Plaza and Edmundo Pérez and contemporary images by young photographer Jesús Ochoa. The exhibition, also features video, ambient sounds and original masks from Yare.

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