In 2004, whilst driving through the desert of northern Mexico, I passed by a lonely and abandoned restaurant, a concrete cube with the name ‘Restaurante Paraíso’ painted on its facade. It was such a contradictory image that it became etched in my memory.
Eden, Elysium, Heaven, El Dorado, Shangri-La, Arcadia, Aaru, Shambhala, Cockaigne, Tlalocan, Tlazolteotl… all places devised by cultures around the world, throughout the centuries, in a desire to find something better than everyday reality, something divine, something perfect, something to look forward to in the next life. In literature and art we read and see innumerable representations of these types of utopia, images that trigger the imagination and that take us a step closer to it. Apparently, reality will never be enough for us.
In Mexico there are 23 places named ‘Paraíso’ or ‘El Paraíso’ dotted across fifteen of the thirty-one Mexican states. A decision was made to visit 10 of them; Colima, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, Tabasco, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Yucatán, San Luis Potosí and Queretaro.
The number 10 has been credited with many different meanings. In the Bible there’s the 10 Commandments, the 10 Plagues, the 10 generations of man who lived on the earth before the flood waters came. 10 was the Pythagorean symbol of perfection or completeness because 10 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. It symbolised unity arising from multiplicity but it was also related to space. A single point corresponds to 1, a line to 2 (because a line has two extremities), a triangle to 3, and space to 4. Thus 10 also symbolised all possible spaces.
From April 2019 to June 2021, we visited all 10 of our chosen Paradises in a bid to discover hidden tales and common threads that would connect them to one another in some way, and that together could build some kind of portrait of Mexico. How would these ‘paradises’ mirror and contradict reality? What would they tell us about Mexico’s history and contemporary society?
The goal was never to find a real paradise, whatever that may be, but to unearth contradictory terrains and contexts. What we found was so much more profound and complex than that. Every community we visited was suffering the direct consequences of the climate crisis to one degree or another, often in extreme ways. With each new location, another piece of the puzzle fell in to place and slowly a picture came together that illustrated abuses of power, exploitation of the land and waterways, disregard for the wellbeing of the social fabric of society and economic disaster… a myriad of intersectional injustices bound together by a disconnect from the natural world. But we also found resistance and love.
Looking for Paradise looks to contribute to the conversation on climate injustice, to help stimulate the urgent action that’s required of all of us; without one another, without community, there’s not a hope in hell of finding paradise.
Buscando Paraíso is funded by the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte (SNCA) of the Fondo Nacional de Cultura y las Artes (FONCA), Mexico.
Contributors & Collaborators
Catalina Bojacá, Line Producer
Paulina del Paso, Project Advisor
COLIMA Miguel Ruíz Paladez, Raúl ‘El Güero’ Ruíz, Carmela Leticia Díaz, Jorge OAXACA Esteban Delgado García, Alberta García Rentería, Susana Santander Barrueta, Don Guadalupe García Cruz, Aquiles Miguel Méndez VERACRUZ Rafael Antonio Hernández Pérez, David Leonardo Callejaz Ruíz, Jorge, Paulina Callejas Hernández GUERRERO Iván Oropeza Bruno, Vianey García Vinalay, Julia Figueroa Trujillo, Esteban Sánchez Bautista, Joaquín Martínez Valdez TABASCO Esperanza Jiménez de la Cruz, Padre Jesús Alfonso Dominguez de la Cruz, Secundino Torres Lamas, María Guadalupe Jiménez Cruz CHIAPAS Sociedad Cooperativa El Raizal, Ruben Guzman Magaña, Gabino López Sandoval, José Manuel Leyva Hernández, José Inurreta López, Carlos Manuel Leyva Sonda, Luis Alberto Chang Morales, Julio Hernández Leyva, Miguel Tosca Silvan, José Francisco Cruz Fuentes, Fernando Mendoza Diaz, Fabian Méndez López, Orbelin López Vera, Lilia López Chan, Violeta López Sandoval, Severino Dominguez Guzmán, Guadalupe Padilla Sánchez, Celia López Leyva CHIHUAHUA Alejandro O’Reilly, Andrés Escobar, Alma González, Antonio Fierro YUCATÁN Brígida May May, Beatriz Balam May SAN LUÍS POTOSÍ León Castillo Castillo QUERÉTARO Benito Martínez.