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They have tattoos, including some with diabolical designs; they are in prison, and they are violent. Not only is there the hostility which comes from their social background, rooted in the brutal genocide of the Mayas by military dictatorships, but there is also violence perpetrated by the armed forces, police and mercenaries who kill them.

These are the Maras, gangs of young people (some very young) who, when trapped in an impossible situation, adopt an alternative modus operandi, transgressing any and every law, who are caught up with drug dealing, prostitution, weapons training, and every possible racket. They have devised distinctive signs to recognize one another; their identities are worn physically on their bodies and are painted on walls. They are aggressive and violent, yet also lead an ordinary life, have feelings, and fall in love.

They are victims, and as they cannot see any way out, generate even more victims. They reach a stage of desperation that is quite moving, for emotion prevails as no rational explanation can be found for their actions, because they are heading straight for disaster, and life itself – or lives in general, their own and the lives of others they might kill – has lost all meaning.

Miquel Dewever-Plana is not passing judgment, and would not be entitled to do so. He wants to understand what is happening in this country which he feels so strongly, so passionately, about, and has ever since his first trip here more than ten years ago. He is there in different situations, discreetly and modestly, as a simple observer, trying to pass unnoticed so as not to change anything or anyone, and in the end they forget about him. This requires a great deal of time, patience and attention. Over long stays, bonding within the timeframe, the photographer has recorded pictures with no frills – no caricatures of actors who love to pose, pandering to media demand for provocation, and no voyeuristic indulgence in violence. A young man and woman are seen kissing across prison bars in a scene of great tenderness: the young girl’s face is beautiful, radiant, and the young man’s body is a sensual display of tattoos. Then there are police lights focusing on bullet holes, marking out space, even conjuring up parallels with religious paintings when a body is laid to rest in a tomb.

The different paths cross, weaving in and out, presenting a world built on violence, and there is the wretched feeling that the one thing these young people want is to live their life. So why is that impossible?

Christian Caujolle, May 2009

Miquel Dewever-Plana

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