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.
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).
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.