First published: Spring 2017
Saints and sinners, Gods and demons, drunkards, intellectuals, lovers and gamblers. These are just some of the many characters and creatures that appear on the packages of magic soap: a range of soaps that can be bought from esoteric stalls in cramped and dusty corners of the markets of Mexico and South America. These soaps, although quite easy to purchase, are largely overlooked, and are virtually unknown in Europe. The artwork used to communicate the powers that each soap will unleash is novel and inspiring.
That said, the artists who design the packages go uncredited, making it difficult to find out who they are, and where the inspiration for their package designs originated.
I collected the packages displayed here between 2015 and 2016 during trips to Quito, Santiago, Easter Island, Mérida, Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Mexico City, while researching contemporary magic and masks. In an old shop in Quito, I spotted a clear plastic bag in a corner behind the counter. Inside were colourful boxes that smelled of soap. Closer observation found them to be Jabon Esoterico: magic soaps that could grant fast money (Don Dinero) or bring about true love (Pega Pega). The dusty boxes were sold with a warning from the old lady in the shop about their power, and what could happen if they were used at the same time. From then on, hunting down magic soaps became part of the focus of my research trips.