Croatia cultural heritage dance Mary Crnkovic Pilas masks and costumes street performance



// Mary is from Sydney, Australia, but has been living in Zagreb, Croatia for many years. She is passionate about black and white street and documentary photography, and with Spectaculum Magazine she shared a series about the “Bigheads” of Santiago de Compostela.

After completing her B.A. in music and French life took Mary to Zagreb. She always had an interest in photography, attending analogue photography courses at the Zagreb Photo Club in 1995, but for many years she could not find the time for it. It was after completing the Camino de Santiago, walking from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, in 2016 that she picked up the camera again seriously. She has won numerous awards and has been exhibited in various galleries, such as the Zagreb Photo Club, the Rijeka Photo Club, the Dubrava Photo Gallery, the Goran Terzic Memorial Photo Contest, F.I.A.P., The Other Hundred, etc. 

Mary firmly believes that a picture should be worth a thousand words and aims to tell stories through each photo. The reason for her Instagram username (“The Marvels of Daily Life”) is a quote by Robert Doisneau that perfectly sums up her philosophy on street photography:

“The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”

Robert Doisneau

What draws you to the arts?

“For me, art, be it musical, visual, literary or otherwise, is like breathing – without it, I would not be able to live.  The sensory, intellectual and emotional stimulation one gets from experiencing art of all kinds draws me to it.” 

What impressed you most about the bigheads of Santiago de Compostela?

“What impressed me the most were how enormous the heads were and how the performers seemed to carry them with ease as well as dance. It was also quite lovely to watch how happy they were as well as the assembled crowd, especially at the height of Covid in Spain.”

Mary went back on the Camino in July 2021. Los Cabezudos de Santiago de Compostela (The Bigheads of Santiago de Compostela). The tradition of the Cabezudos of Santiago dates back to the 19th century, to the year 1879. The troupe was created by the Compostela City Council to “rival” the giants, who were from the Compostela Cabildo and who also went out during the festivities. However, the tradition suffered a break of several years in its history. In the 1970s other characters danced, but they were not “autochthonous” to the city of Santiago. In the 1980s, thanks to the proposal of a dancer, councilor Antonio López, from the UCD, decided to recover the Bigheads for the Santiago festivities.

Not just anyone can dress up as a bighead successfully: they have to know how to dance – and to resist the weight of the bigheads (and be willing to sweat!). The characters they represent are, for example, the “mayor” and the “mayoress”, who lead the delegation, black pages or the character “Manola”. The masks have holes for the eyes in the mouth, and the field of vision of the bigheads is rather reduced, so it is better not to get in their way!

Images may be cropped for layout. Click on the photos to see the full image.


The information about the Bigheads was supplied by Mary, based on information in an article in a Galician website.

To see more of her photography visit Mary´s Instagram page and her website. We have also previously featured Mary´s photos of fire artists at a street festival in Zagreb.

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