Spotlight: Kate Stanworth Follows a Murga Dance Group in Buenos Aires

By David Schonauer   Wednesday January 23, 2019

Murga is street theatre with an edge.

Largely unknown outside of Argentina and Uruguay, murga’s history “is said to be rooted in slavery and colonial Spain, associated with the expression of underdog pride and liberation,” says London-based photographer Kate Stanworth, who first encountered murga’s hypnotic blend of dance and percussion in a Buenos Aires park.

“I walked towards it and watched the dancers as they moved from the first simple steps to the intense high kicks the performances culminate in. I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it,” she told The Guardian last year.

In 2013, while living in Buenos Aires and launching her photography career, Stanworth got to know a local murga troupe she shot on assignment for a local newspaper. Later she began a longterm project focusing on the group, called La Locura de Boedo, as it prepared for carnival.

“Rather than being about their performances, the project looks at how being part of the group is a kind of salvation, and about their shared dreams of escape and the love and dedication they have for one other,” she says. “Following individuals as they prepare to perform in the city’s carnival, the series looks at the interplay between everyday life and fantasy, and of public and private personas, to explore how each informs and transforms the other.”

It was while on assignment for the newspaper that Stanworth shot the photo at top, which was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 7 competition.

“It was about 6.45 in the evening, and it was very hot, very humid,” Stanworth recalled. “Everyone was moving a little slowly, which I think this picture captures. The troupe – about 150 dancers and drummers – had gathered at the director’s house, which transforms into a community center of sorts.

“I came across this private moment in the kitchen. Someone had made stew for dinner, in that big pot, and two dancers were making ham and cheese sandwiches for the road. The boy had put the knife down to concentrate on talking to the girl. They were having an intense conversation. I liked how they were mirroring each other’s body language, unconsciously, beautifully. The composition reminded me of Dutch paintings.”

Here are other images from the series, which Stanworth calls “All Year We Dream of February.”

Later, the troupe members invited Stanworth to travel along with them. “I’ve been going ever since. I’ve tried to learn the dance, but I should have started when I was a lot younger, it’s really hard,” she says. “Mostly I just take photographs. Being made part of the group feels special, I’m this English person who just wandered in one day, and they have embraced me with open arms. It’s changed my life.”

Stanworth, whose work has been published by The Guardian, BBC News, Time Out, CNN and Al Jazeera, as well as a number of NGOs, began her career in photography working as a photo editor at an NGO in London. She moved to Argentina to build up her own portfolio. She eventually moved back to London but returns to Argentina every year. “It's important for me to keep that connection with the country, culture and my many friends there, and the project has been an important way of doing that,” she says. She is planning to turn the project into a book.


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Dispatches from Latin America