LEST THEY FORGET

THE BROADER PICTURE
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The Independent Culture
What Do they remind you of, these poignant corners of rough-brick houses in a far-off, Third World country? Photographs of lost husbands and parents peep out from among the garish religious pictures, flowers are laid in profusion; and relics of childhood - dolls, teddies, kids' pictures - are commandeered from their civilian roles and pressed into higher service.

Those who visited Kensington Palace in the weeks after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, have seen these combinations before: cut-out magazine covers, lilies, toys, handwritten notes, red heart-shaped balloons, lying in a huge pile or hung from trees and railings. Dana Salvo's pictures of household "altars" were taken in Mexico: but for a fortnight before the WI women and their Girl Guide helpers started to clear it all away, a large part of a London park resembled nothing so much as one of Salvo's domestic shrines, writ impossibly large - the aggregation of a hundred Mexican peasant shacks.

Whether in Kensington or Quintana Roo, what is remarkable about these altars is their personality. The business of commemorating the dead, of seeking to maintain some relationship with them, is too individual - even in a Catholic country - to allow a mass industry to develop. So nothing is specifically made for such purposes. There is no section at B&Q or Homebase flogging shrine niches, or specialised statuettes customised from photos of your lost ones. You can buy a stone- effect Renaissance fountain (pump included), or a Margaret Thatcher garden gnome, but not a cross with the name of Eric, or Porfirio - or Diana - on it.

So you rummage through the boxes under the bed for mementoes, redeploy the images of innocence and love associated with infancy, cut the flowers, and construct something that tells you about yourself, and how you too want to be remembered.

! 'Home Altars of Mexico', with photographs by Dana Salvo, is published by Thames & Hudson at pounds 14.95.

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