Los Canarios exhibition brochure

The Guanches

What could be more exciting than going to look for the origins of the Guanches in the Canary Islands? Together with open questions and paradoxes the photographic eye of Francesca is again a framework best suited to its explorations. When the Europeans arrived in the Canaries, in the XV century or earlier, the Guanches were already living there. Here we have the first reason to wonder. An island is an incomparable sailors land: how was it possible that more than 80.000 inhabitants of these seven islands scattered in the Atlantic Ocean (today more than two million people) didn’t have any advanced sailing technique? An autochthonous ethnic group was already present at the arrival of the Spanish colonists. They revealed prevailing Berber characteristics, probably settled about 2,500 years ago, and later diluted and blended, especially in the masculine lineage, with the colonists arriving from many different European countries. But when and how did these early people from North Africa arrive? And there was little movement amongst the seven islands of the archipelago. What caused the decline in knowledge necessary for control of the sea, to the point of not even going to find neighbouring islands? Was the loss of knowledge gradual over time, or due to sudden historical events, to war defeats, or to limitations by rulers impositions? We needn´t wonder about these questions as the Department of Genetics of La Laguna University is working on a genetic mapping program to retrace the progeny of the Guanches. In this context of demographic multi-ethnicity and variety, complementary to a strong indigenous identity, Francesca Phillips contributes her photographic inquiry. Her portraits will stand as documents of a contemporary research, as statements of a scrutinising eye on the present faces, on their people and their previous history. In front of these portraits we understand that the attraction – we may say the charm – of a face doesn’t depend on rules of beauty. It depends, instead, on the humanity and memory shining through. Perhaps it will never be known in modern times when and how the Canaries underwent, a long time ago, invasions, immigrations, dominations similar to those of the last five centuries. In any case, these portraits are the visible equivalences of the invisible plot that DNA reshuffled and composed for centuries. As well as the knowledge gained by the genetic research, we find in these portraits phenomenological and somatic traits created by their environment, a common history and the singularity of the characters: everything takes form in Francesca´s lens, the images emerging from the acid baths and silver salts in her darkroom.

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