This unique piece was created with a photograph taken when Gaal met Don Genaro, and from that photo and the beginning of that friendship, the Testigos project was born.
The Birthplace of Paper
Gaal keeps track of the passage of time. From life to death in Witnesses and from day to night in San Pablito. Witnesses is an exhibition that shows the faces of life in eleven stages, the physical changes of the past in the present and the possibility of a future. He who sees and says it is a witness. The work of the exhibition consists of portraits formed by diptychs -- eyes and mouths of eleven individuals -- representing a living community of millennial culture and tradition.
San Pablito is an audiovisual document made up of a selection of 56 photographs and eight videos grouped into eight thematic sets that narrate the way of life of the region's inhabitants: their gastronomy, social, political, and religious context, traditions, and the process of producing amate paper.
Mother Earth and Pueblito: The imposing mountain range and its view at dawn. At sunset, they contrast with the informal construction of the town, the cemetery as a micro-city or the possible model of a big city. The inhabitants making use of its streets and buildings.
Sunday and Daily Life: Because not every day is a Sunday, Gaal portrays the day-to-day life indoors, inside the house, what happens before, during and after a meal and, thus repeatedly and almost hypnotically, he narrates the days in the village and Sundays in the street. This series shows the Sunday activity of attending mass, street commerce and corner meetings.
Woman: A woman's firm and precise footsteps are captured step by step by the witness accompanying the obstacle course that women face two or three times a day carrying water and food, synchronizing their breathing with their steps. The woman is mother, Sunday and every day, the land and its details, blessings and people.
Small Details: It is the artist's gaze beyond the urban and social context; the artist walks alert to capture the movements of the inhabitants, their customs and pathways. However, these details always appear before the artist's gaze: fragments of objects that by themselves have a pictorial and sculptural value that Gaal's camera and eye find and show us.
Blessings and Little Mother: Syncretism in which respect and the ceremonial use of nature and its cycles, the pre-Hispanic deities and the Catholic religion coexist. This series shows the worship of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
San Pablito Pahuatlán is located in the northern sierra of Puebla where the Otomi community lives in the birthplace of amate paper.
The artist is not a foreigner in the town, nor is he just another visitor. Gaal infiltrates the community, gains their trust and becomes iaio (the grandfather). Niriel, his young assistant and companion on the village tours, as well as his friendship with Don Genaro and Octavio (Don Genaro's son and heir to the technique of making amate paper) are the result of how Gaal witnesses a way of life that he led in the winter of 2018. We have before us a visual diary where Cohen records what occurred, captures the evidence of the passage of time and shares this intimate document with us, making us witnesses of the witnesses of the witness.
In search of the eternal cry
The cry of a newborn child. It is a cry that will not disappear throughout his life. Time passes and becomes time that elapses through eleven steps that lead him from birth to death. In the ever-evolving history of humanity, man, attached to the earth, invokes it so that it does not stop nourishing it through plants. Moreover, he hopes that this ancestral land will provide him with many gifts and, among them, the amate tree where the artist depicts the faces of the people who are thus joined in a constant relationship of earth, tree and humanity.
It is important to observe how the lens captures the face divided into two parts: half of the face upwards, where the eyes express a fixed, direct, penetrating look that, as Gaal Cohen says, "They see everything and have silenced everything." It is true. But when those eyes that scrutinize everything become tired of looking at injustice, plunder and many other things, then they rebel and become flames that spew fire. From the middle of the face downwards, we have the presence of the mouth. None of them smiles; it is a rictus of pain and sadness. But, along with the eyes, the mouth expresses the voice that can become a formidable weapon that invokes the earth that tells the truth for so many centuries of all those who have suffered inequality and poverty.
These faces are the universal face that is there to tell us: here we are. They are the face of the past, present and future. They transcend time and arrive, paradoxically, to infinity.