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2014 - 15 Events

Centre of Latin American Studies

Seeing Darkness

Mexico Noir:  Rethinking the Dark in Contemporary Narrative and Photography

24 April 2015

The Winstanley Lecture Theatre, Trinity College, Cambridge [click here for map].

This event is in association with the Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS) and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (SpanPort) of the University of Cambridge.


Erica Segre (Trinity College, Cambridge; CLAS; SpanPort)

Symposium summary

The symposium adopts an intermedial and interdisciplinary approach to explore the allusive nexus of the dark in contemporary Mexican narrative and photography during decades of deepening crisis marked by the high profile staging of atrocities and the re-emergence of an ironic noir aesthetic. A multimedia and often intermedial aesthetic of oscuridad lúcida which seeks to encompass the institutional fabric of complicity that has blurred the boundary of what constitutes the criminal ‘underworld’ and what had euphemistically come to be described as ‘los elementos de la noche’ (‘the elements of the night’, José Emilio Pacheco).  This often self-estranged aesthetic, borrowing  effects from forensic documentation and investigative detection, is unnerved by its own optical  realism and inclined to fictionalize the power of dark forces to intimate the magnitude of the unknowable as well as the victimized. It finds in the photographic spectrum the problem and temptation of enhanced visibility that exercises the contemporary representational project in Mexico. The aim of this rethinking is to playfully formalize the precincts and modalities of the dark thematically but also in terms of the structural supports of visual and narrative practice in which darkness, as photographer Gerardo Suter has suggested, exists as indexical, as narrativity, as aesthetic in which the suppressive but also constitutive properties may be experienced as the domain of a meta-place, or remain unrecognized through the transparent effect of the dark. Equally apparent in this discussion, is how the urgency of the present invites an ethical reflection on the evanescent territory of ‘the unspeakable’ in creative practice.

The programme brings together in Cambridge in an unprecedented way a group of important and distinguished creative artists, thinkers and academics from Mexico and the UK who represent the intersecting worlds of creative writing, visual culture theory, multimedia installation and photography, literary criticism, philosophy and curatorial practice. Confirmed speakers include the poet, writer and critic Cristina Rivera Garza; the multimedia installation artist and photographer Gerardo Suter; the theorist, critic and curator José Luis Barrios,  prominent  Latinamericanists whose combined specialisms cover the literature, film and cultural politics of modern and contemporary Mexico  such as  John Kraniauskas and Geoffrey Kantaris and new generation scholars of Mexican literature and visual culture such as Elsa Treviño.

The event is free and open to all but registration is required. We look forward to seeing you in Cambridge!

The Keynote will be delivered by Cristina Rivera Garza ( An award winning and widely translated author her most notable works include Nadie me verá llorar (1998), La muerte me da (2007), La Castañeda: Narrativas dolentes desde el Manicomio General , 1910-1930 (2010), Dolerse: Textos desde un país herido (2011)  and Los muertos indóciles: Necroescrituras y desapropriación (2013). She is professor of Writing at the University of California, San Diego and has a long-term interest in photography and documentary film.

Further information


For registration please contact Julie Coimbra

Supported by

This symposium is generously supported by:

  • The Mexican Embassy
  • The Centre of Latin American Studies, Cambridge
  • The Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Cambridge
  • Trinity College Cambridge