Undercover – Interview

To celebrate the release of Undercover, we talk to its author Onnis Luque

Firstly, please tell us the journey behind Undercover? What led you to making it?

Onnis Luque: The project Undercover began on the 19th September 2017 when an earthquake measuring 7.1 hit Mexico City. Incidentally, it was the very same date in 1985 that the biggest earthquake on record in Mexico also hit the capital. After the earthquake of 2017, many investigations by journalists uncovered that corruption had played a major role in determining why so many buildings, despite being built to withstand such strong earthquakes, were seriously damaged or collapsed completely. 

As an artist, I wanted to say something to this end but I didn’t know how or what. Then, I noticed the damaged buildings were all covered in black veils to prevent things from falling down from the construction sites to the streets below. These anonymous sculptures became involuntary symbols of both the mourning that the city was going through and the corrupt agreements made in secret that had undermined the buildings, and cost lives.

How did you find your first image behind this idea and what does it show?

OL: My goal was to make a statement with my photographs about the corruption associated with the real estate industry in Mexico city. However, I did not want to show the collapsed buildings as they were. I thought it would be crude and disrespectful to the families that had lost relatives there. With this in mind, I began noticing that I could make images of the covered buildings as metaphors for the corruption, mourning and uncertainty that permeated the air. 

From that point, how did it proceed? As you expected, or did your ideas around the project change during the process of making it?

OL: Once I felt I could go this way, I started compulsively searching all over the city for these veiled buildings. At one point I also noticed that it was not only damaged buildings that were being covered, but also new ones under construction. This reinforced the idea of uncertainty that I had and brought new questions to the table at the same time. For example, is this covered building a new one, or one damaged by the earthquake? If new, is it being constructed according to the building regulations? Or were the agreements that brought it into being corrupt? Is one’s life in danger in such a building?

Please tell us about your idea to make this project into a book?

I think the book is one of the greatest inventions of humanity. The object that is the book gives a whole other layer to the project: the paper, the weight, the beautiful design by Alejandro Cartagena, etc. The book also gives another sense of time to the images. What I mean is that you can stay looking at a picture or a spread as long as you want, and having that time to see and reflect on what you are seeing is very important to me as the artist.

Is the project now finished and concluded, or is there more to come?

Now, Id like to take the book as a starting point or a pretext to reflect about corruption, organise roundtable discussion and events and invite many of the different actors who are responsible for this matter, from people working in the government to the likes of architects and developers.