The Liwa Mairin photography exhibit, taking place at the Maison du Développement Durable, showcases an unfamiliar terrain, the depths of the sea. The exhibit is being presented by documentary photographer Valérian Mazataud in collaboration with Handicap International, which is a non-profit organization that uses donations to support more than 2 million people across 59 countries. Mazataud holds a degree in marine environment and specifically studies ancient instruments of scuba diving; the images he captures display his fascination for those who experience life underwater.
The subjects of Mazataud’s work are the Moskitia people—a group who lives in the Honduran part of the Amazon jungle and who, for over 40 years, have based their economy on the practice of deep-sea dive fishing. Mazataud shows his subject’s way of life through his photographs. By entering their homes and following the daily routines of these people, the viewer is able to understand how all aspects of their lives tie back to the theme of fishing. The various demographics of citizens within the villages have their separate duties, and yet they all work towards a common goal. Their lives are centred on the water, the backbone of their community and provider of all necessities.
The diving method is extremely dangerous due to outdated equipment, causing severe cases of decompression illness. As a result of spinal cord injuries, the remote region in Honduras has an estimated 3,000 paraplegics and over 600 people have died due to their injuries. One of Mazataud’s photographs shows a young man being helped into his wheelchair by an elderly woman. Having lost his ability to walk, the man must rely on family members to help him complete daily tasks. Another section of the exhibit displays a former diver being treated by a physiotherapist, tied to a bench and visibly uncomfortable.
Mazataud focuses on the expressions of his subjects. The viewer’s eyes are immediately drawn to the furrowed brow of a handicapped man feeling the sun on his cheeks, or the sly smirk of a woman gutting fish. A connection to these people is created, despite being a world away. Even in the heart of downtown Montreal, the Liwa Mairin Exhibit transports its viewer to the rural villages photographed.
Photographs of the divers side by side with fish draws the comparison of the diver’s movements through the water. The citizens of the region believe that they are victims of ‘Liwa,’ a type of natural spirit that dwells in rivers, oceans, and lagoons. Specifically, Liwa Mairin translates to “water woman being”—a creature similar to a mermaid. The folklore explains that they punish men who dive for lobsters on the seabed by giving them diseases and poor health. Silhouetted by the sunlight above, the divers’ bodies streamline through the water, drawing the connection with underwater people such as the Liwa Mairin. The vibrant colours mimic those of what one may find under the ocean: Murky greens and clear blues. The consistent theme of water as the pillar in these societies, despite its dangers to the people, is drawn through the entirety of the collection.
Through his photographs and partnership with Handicap International, Mazataud visualizes the Moskitia economy and the subsequent injuries it produces. An informational guide for the exhibit explains that Mazataud wishes to shed light on the issue faced by these silenced citizens, in hopes that his photographs can speak on their behalf to make change for the better.
On display from September 8 to September 29, “Liwa Mairin” can be viewed at 50 rue Sainte Catherine at the Maison du Developpement Durable.