Chaque année depuis 464 ans, une semaine avant Pâques, se déroulent les évènements de la Semaine sainte de Popayan. Capitale du département du Cauca, celle qu’on appelle la « Ville Blanche » se situe dans le sud-ouest de la Colombie.
D’autres localités colombiennes organisent des célébrations similaires, mais c’est à Popayan qu’ont lieu les plus anciennes et reconnues au pays.
Tous les soirs de la semaine, une quinzaine de châsses appelées « pasos » sortent des églises de la ville accompagnées de personnages emblématiques comme le porteur (carguero), la sahumadora, le moquero.
La Semaine sainte est l’évènement le plus important d’une ville qui est confrontée à des difficultés socio-économiques, culturelles et politiques chroniques le reste de l’année.
Pour une partie de la communauté, la Semaine Sainte est un point de ralliement où convergent les « semanasanteros » de tout le pays pour faire perdurer cette tradition transmise essentiellement à l’oral et une occasion d’affirmer sa foi, son identité et son patrimoine culturel.
Semanasanteros is a project I started working on 2019, although I have been already thinking for a few years of documenting the Semana Santa of Popayan, a Colombian town located in the Cauca region. For more than 450 years, the people of Popayan, the Patojos, have been celebrating the catholic Holy Week by displaying images of the Passion of the Christ during processions. Semanasanteros, the people from Semana Santa, are deeply involved in all aspects of this celebration. For most Patojos, the Semana Santa is the most important event of the year. As if the bells of the many churches of the Ciudad Blanca were calling, the Patojos from all across Colombia, and even those expatriated abroad, converge to Popayan every year. The Semana Santa is not only a religious event, it is a fundamental part of the community identity.
The way Popayan celebrates the Semana Santa is now on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This meaningful acknowledgement draws a lot of attention to Popayan, a city that used to be of great importance to the nation and that has now been struggling in a social, economical and cultural crisis for decades. A complexe context involving the Colombian armed conflict, a devastating earthquake in 1983 and the rise of a new class taking ownership of the political power has brought deep changes to the city in the past fourty years. Amongst all this, the Semana Santa has become to some Patojos a reference point in terms of culture, pride and identity.
The event that is the Semana Santa of Popayan is widely known across Colombia, but many aspects of its organization are still only known by the semanasanteros. The Semana Santa unsettles the regular social organization of the city, momentarily placing important powers between the hands of the Sindicos and Regidores, characters who play a central role in making the Semana Santa happening. I intend to document the semanasanteros not only during the notorious processions, which is the visible part of the Holy Week, but also showing what happens behind the white walls of the traditional houses of Popayan: when cargueros, sahumadoras and regidores prepare for the night ahead; the important process of mounting and unmounting the reliquary floats, or pasos, that hundred of thousands of people are going to watch and follow along the streets; how the carriers of each float are selected amongst the many men who want to participate.
In essence, I want to showcase the many fundamental and traditional aspects of this parallel society that only exists during the Semana Santa which reflects, in a certain way, the political, economical, cultural and social context of Popayan and it’s region.