When thinking about Guerrero, various images of things I’d never experienced personally came to mind. I recalled conversations I’d overheard when I was a child, at family lunches at my grandparents’ house. People told stories, reminisced about deceased relatives, and talked about politics and the country. I dedicate Black Earth to my grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles who, over those years, fueled my passion for exploring and getting to know Mexico, for the need to approach the “other,” for recognizing myself and what is different through photography.
My father’s parents came to Mexico at the end of the Spanish Civil War. My grandmother Rosa, who was nineteen, traveled alone aboard the ship Ipanema, which transported Spanish exiles from France. My grandfather Ángel escaped from a refugee camp with the help of his British girlfriend, who sent him to the United States, from where he traveled to Mexico. Having experience in hotel management, my grandfather worked for the only hotel in Acapulco, Guerrero at the time. When the town’s policemen heard that this newcomer was a Spaniard escaping from the war, they asked him to coach them and he agreed to do so. Meanwhile, my grandmother began establishing ties with members of the Spanish Communist Party in Mexico; when they found out a Spanish anarchist was training the police in Acapulco, they sent my grandmother Rosa to spy on him. This is how they met and how the Godeds’ love story began.
I also grew up with the myth of my great-uncle, Antolín, the adventurer, my grandfather Ángel’s younger brother, who had come to Mexico during the Franco period after Ángel had managed to get him released from prison. Antolín was a pilot in the Costa Chica region of the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. During Sunday lunches at my grandparents’ house, they talked a lot about him and about his love for this region of the Pacific and its inhabitants. Though I never knew him ―he died before I was born― I wanted to be like him, so I decided I wanted to travel. His plane had crashed into a cliff in the rugged landscape near Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, where his remains were buried. And so Antolín forever remained in the fascinating lands he loved so dearly.
I also remember that when I was little, my father settled in Chilpancingo to work at the Universidad de Guerrero. He traveled to the highlands and the outlying villages. He told us stories about smallholder farmers, the Lucio Cabañas guerrilla movement, and the government’s repression of people in towns that supported it. “The river water came down red from the mountains. That’s how we knew that they had killed a whole town,” my father would say.
What remains now are my memories, my experiences. Black Earth is a collection of images of communities of African descent on the Costa Chica, of brave and joyful people, of hard-working women who, over the three years I traveled to this region, became my family, my memories.
When Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán published La población negra en México (The Black Population in Mexico) almost fifty years ago, he uncovered a fundamental element that might lead to a better understanding of contemporary Mexico. His exacting, detailed research could not be called into question: the construction of modern Mexico owed an enormous debt to the black community. At one point, Africans arriving in the continent outnumbered Europeans by twenty to one: African blood runs through our veins, more visibly so on the coasts of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, and perhaps less so in the interior, though small groups and communities of African descent are present throughout the country.
Several years ago, Maya Goded began a detailed examination along the coasts of Guerrero and Oaxaca, documenting with her camera the everyday life of our visible “third root.” (1) Goded is not an anthropologist, and this is her first book; she points this out not so much to qualify the results of her work, but rather so that the “viewer” of this book will not waste time trying to come up with explanations for her effort.
We could focus on many aspects of Goded’s work, but here I would like to draw attention to two things. The first is the relationship she establishes with the subjects she portrays, something that renders her gaze unique: Goded stares straight at her subject and her subject stares straight back at her. And she does not emphasize the technical skill she has acquired with the instrument she uses; instead, her camera simply and plainly vanishes. At a time when technical considerations tend to pervade artistic practice as well as one’s own awareness, Goded’s vision allows us to be optimistic, realizing that the instrument exists only when the artist needs it as technical support. When it is time for the artist to do what she has to do, it is the human being, the artist who happens to be a woman, who prevails.
Excerpted from José de Val’s preface to Maya Goded’s book Tierra negra (El Milagro, 1994).
Using photography and documentary filmmaking, Maya Goded addresses issues of feminine sexuality, prostitution, marginalization, and gender violence in a society where the condition of women is defined by myths about chastity, fragility, and maternity. Goded received a Prince Claus Fund grant in 2010, was selected for the Joop Swart Masterclass of World Press Photo in 1996, and was awarded the prize of the Mother Jones Fund in 1993. Her project Plaza de la Soledad, which documents prostitution in the center of Mexico City, earned her a grant from the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund in 2001, as well as numerous international distinctions, after it was presented as a full-length documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. Based on this photo essay, Goded published a book of the same name in 2006, under the Lunwerg imprint. She is currently working on a project about shamanistic communities in the Americas.
1. A term that has become established in Mexico, following the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the “encounter” with Spain, used to refer to the mixing of indigenous people with the African blacks brought to the country by force. The use of the term is not to be recommended, however, since it is inappropriate to speak of hierarchical tiers among the races.
A project commissioned by Africamericanos
One way of exploring the way of life of people from different cultures is to observe the objects that they own. Each thing is an instrument through which we obtain certain information: it refers to the person who owns it, to a system of symbols, and to the uses to which it has been put.
This project lends visibility to certain aspects of Afro-Mexican culture in the Costa Chica region of the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, representing objects used in dances, rituals, and everyday activities that situate us in time and allow us to examine the culture. These objects trigger questions about their idiosyncratic uses and how these particularities have come to represent the resistance of a community that, after being forced to cross the ocean and to settle in an unfamiliar land, transformed itself as it incorporated new elements into its way of life, and thus into its material culture (1).
Born in the Costa Chica region of Mexico, Hugo Arellanes was raised in Cuajinicuilapa, Guerrero, where he studied social justice issues and human rights at the Universidad Intercultural de los Pueblos del Sur. His principal lines of research involve Afrodescendant culture along the Mexican Pacific coast, social and urban movements, and the performing arts. In 2013 he published a photo essay in a volume devoted to Afrodescendants in Mexico, published by the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas. He is the founder and coordinator of Huella Negra, an organization devoted to fostering and visibilizing Afrodescendant culture. He gives photography classes in Mexico City and in rural communities in the state of Guerrero.
1. It should be pointed out that this community maintains certain African elements, such as the use of masks and friction drums.