Manuel González de la Parra

Black Americas

About the project
Koral Carballo
Coyolillo: The Mystery of the Disfrazado
Koral Carballo

Coyolillo: The Mystery of the Disfrazado

About the project

Manuel González De La Parra, Mexico

Odile Hoffmann & Adriana Naveda

To conceive a book of photographs about black communities in Latin America is not merely an experiment of an aesthetic or academic nature. It means taking a specific stance towards and in collaboration with the individuals photographed, clarifying with them the aims, conditions, and purposes of the photographs.

In this book, the images of Mexico are the result of Manuel González’s visits to Coyolillo, a town in the state of Veracruz. The photographer traveled there often and spent a lot of time there, gradually building relationships with the townsfolk based on trust and respect. The local residents are descendants of two groups of black settlers: some came from Florida in the eighteenth century (1), while others were enslaved Africans who arrived over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to work on the sugarcane plantations belonging to the town of Xalapa: mainly at the sugar mills of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Almolonga. In the settlements, marriages and friendships between indigenous people, blacks, and Caucasians led to the formation of what we now call Afro-mestizo communities.

The work that González did in Colombia followed a different process. His pictures were taken in a vast region of rivers and plains in the country’s southwest, after he had come to formal accords ―or more spontaneous agreements― with black organizations that are attempting to reclaim control over cultural and scientific enterprises taking place in their territory. Subsequently, as González traveled by boat or bus through the rural Colombian landscape, meeting fishermen and smallholder farmers, it is once again the fundamental relationship between the photographer and the person being photographed that comes to the fore, reflecting the moment when these two figures establish (or fail to establish) a personal rapport.

Excerpted from Manuel González de la Parra, Luces de raíz negra (Universidad Veracruzana, 2004).

(Cotija de la Paz [Michoacán], Mexico, 1954 – Xalapa [Veracruz], Mexico, 2012)

Manuel González de la Parra devoted a large part of his career to documenting the Afrodescendant communities in the Mexican state of Veracruz and along the coasts of Colombia. His first photo essay, produced in collaboration with the geographer Odile Hoffman, was published as Xico, una sierra y su gente (IVEC, 1982). In 1989 González de la Parra undertook a long-term project entitled Coyolillo, un pueblo afromestizo (Coyolillo: An Afro-mestizo Village). As a result of this project, as well as other work done in Tumaco, Colombia, he published Luces de raíz negra in 2001, a portrait of the African legacy in these two regions. He has also worked as a still photographer for motion pictures such as El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1999) and Otila Rauda (2001). He was the director of the Instituto de Artes Plásticas of the Universidad Veracruzana from 2006 until his death.

1. It is known that the Afrodescendant people who arrived in Mexico from Florida settled mainly in the norther state of Coahuila.

Koral Carballo, Mexico

A project commissioned by Africamericanos

Coyolillo is an Afro-mestizo community in southern Mexico that has an inspiring history of freedom. Its first settlers were enslaved Africans who disembarked in the municipality of Actopan, Veracruz, where they started working on sugarcane plantations in the region.

The stories told include one about the boss of the San Miguel de Almolonga hacienda, who gave the enslaved workers only one day off every year, which they turned into a grand celebration. The main characters of this fiesta today are known as disfrazados (disguised ones) or negros (blacks), who cavort in the streets or engage in pranks. Behind their wood-carved masks, representing bull’s heads, we find an Afro-Mexican identity that has remained hidden for centuries, preserved by the people of this town located in the Valle de Mozambique in Veracruz.

(b. 1987) Veracruz, Mexico

Koral Carballo’s work spreads out from the fields of journalism, the visual arts, and documentary photography to explore visual narratives connected with identity, violence, and territory. She was awarded a Moving Walls Fellowship by the Open Society Foundation in 2018, fellowships from the Adelante program of the International Women’s Media Foundation on two occasions (2017 and 2018), and a grant from the loan program of Leica Fotografie International in 2017. She was nominated for the Berlin Talent Award in 2019 and the 2018 Joop Swart Masterclass of World Press Photo. Her journalistic work has been published in Le Monde, El País, The Washington Post, and El Universal. She is a founder of MIRAR DISTINTO, a documentary photography and photojournalism festival created in 2014 in Veracruz. She is a member of the collective Trasluz and of the Women Photograph initiative.