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… all places devised by humans in their desire to find something better than everyday reality or something better to look forward to in the next life. For centuries, cultures around the world have created their own ideas of paradise, for the Mexicas it was Tlalocan, the paradise ruled by Tlaloc and according to history, located on the eastern side of the universe. Or the garden of Tlazolteotl, a resplendent paradise in the sky, strictly forbidden to men. In literature and art we read and see innumerable representations of these types of places, images that trigger the imagination and that take us a step closer to what we want to believe. Apparently, reality will never be enough for us.
In Mexico’s Guia Roji there are ten places listed called ‘Paraíso’ or ‘El Paraíso’. According to Google Maps there are fourteen more, bringing us to a total of twenty-four. They’re to be found dotted across sixteen of the thirty-one Mexican states; Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, San Luis Potosi, Michoacan, Queretaro, Colima, Guerrero, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan and Chiapas. In 2019 I began the Paradise journies to discover the stories behind their nomenclatures and their hidden tales. I want to find the threads that connect these places and that together create an anthropological and poetic portrait of Mexico. I want to discover how these ‘paradises’ mirror and contradict reality, and what they can tell us about the history of the country and its reality today.
The concept of paradise is wide-ranging and profound, historical and contemporary. In the places named Paradise, I have no hope of finding a true paradise, but contradictory and complicated terrains and contexts. With regard to Mexico, the possibility of a picturesque geographical paradise is a real possibility but the layers of sociological and historical reality that reveal themselves when one transcends the superficial are elements that offer the opportunity for a fascinating artistic investigation.