Mexico, March 2017 / Reportage and text by Sébastien Van Malleghem

Read the publication on TIME &  De Standaard


Motionless between heaven and earth, the throat tied on an acrid cloud of noxious fumes, temples propped against the stranglehold of the altitude and an incessant din, I scan the throes of an insomniac megalopolis


Mexico City, 22 million inhabitants 450 deaths per day.

Crimes, accidents, cancers, respiratory diseases caused by pollution, are qualified causes of "natural" death: the banality of everyday life constantly repeated.

In the bad neighborhoods of Colonia Doctores, a few blocks away from the General Hospital of Mexico City, funeral florists and coffins merchants mingle with the dealers and used car dealerships. Each week, from the nearby hospitals, hundreds of bodies are conveyed to the workshops of the embalmers, these "aestheticians of death" are charged to erase the stigma - as much as possible. As a derisory attempt: an impossible syncretism between the profane and the sacred, ancestral rituals and modernity, health concerns and inadequate resources ...


For a weekly wage of 50 euros per week at a rate of about forty minutes per body, embalmers emptied the bodies of their fat, necrosis, clean and fix the muscles and organs by using chemicals, wash, paint, make-up ..



Whatever the ritual of the funeral - burial or cremation - the use of services of an embalmer is a legal requirement. In this profession where silence dominates, it is not uncommon to work 48 hours straight.


The megalopolis is 5000 square kilometers, hundreds of hectares of cemeteries.

Accompanying the deceased to the cemetery varies with customs, aspirations and financial possibilities of families.Some villagers and musicians prefer to accompany the coffin trough the old town to say goodbye by marking a stop in front of every place of worship. To ensure the name of the deceased last respects, a last genuflection. After reaching the destination, the procession is dismantled; Only the family members are allowed at the cemetery.


The poorest families board for their part in government bus that will take them to the cemetery. The gravediggers then dig the grave in front of them and the coffin will be covered before their eyes dries. Gravediggers, freely working, will then beg for a bit of money.


Buried in the old-fashioned romance of excessive cemeteries, the graves are incalculable. The number reveals the inability of the administration to the census; it seems to settle for an approximated value estimated to tens of thousands of souls. The count is not easy because if the concessions are granted for twenty-one years, families can carry out an exhumation of the deceased's remains to revive the franchise and there bury one of their own afterwards.

Mexico City, March 2016: motionless between heaven and earth, throat tied the bitterness of the human condition, temples propped against the stranglehold of the inevitable, I scan the deafening silence of lifeless body.