For more than 25 years, Mexican photographer Lourdes Grobet has been documenting Lucha Libre, shooting family portraits of luchadores in their own homes, parties and gathering places. The outcome is a gargantuan collection of more than 20,000 negatives that show a complex duality: the tough masked warriors that fly from the top of the cuadrilátero and the caring fathers at home.
When I used to go to the Arena Mexico to cheer for the Rudos as a kid, I always wondered whether masked luchadores still wore their masks at home. In their private lives were they still ellos? Maybe Superman could take a break from saving the world by disguising himself as Clark Kent, but Tinieblas always had to be Tinieblas – he had no secret civilian identity. In Mexico, masks are important to us. More than just costumes, they’re part of our way of life. As Octavio Paz said in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “For a Mexican his face is his mask and so is his smile.”
Father and warrior, the masked wrestler is the perfect metaphor for the duality that Grobet’s photography wants to depict. Her work is resonant because she doesn’t try to demolish the myths that envelop lucha libre – she simply nurtures and expands them in an offbeat way. “The first time I went to see lucha libre was very shocking,” said Grobet in an interview. “Then I realized this is the Mexico I was interested in, the true Mexico. Not the rural one, but the Mexico growing in an urban context.”
The luchador icon provided a urban twist to the Mexican male stereotype that is traditionally anchored to figures like mariachis, rancheros and balazos. While luchadores are still associated with aggressiveness and violence, they also represent protection and providing for their families.
Grobet, who acknowledges experimental artist Mathias Goeritz and abstract expressionist painter Gilberto Aveces Navarro, as her main working influences, also lists El Santo, the ring idol, as a prominent icon in her artistic development.
Indeed the luchador, especially El Enmascarado de Plata, embodies the quintessential father figure. Just as in Mexican society, family is the main institution in lucha.
In fact, lucha libre is a family affair. It’s not uncommon to see entire family dynasties devoted to the theory and practice of lucha. Morality and family values had become important aspects in the wrestling culture because tradition is the vehicle that allows lore to be remembered, not only for luchadores but also for spectators.