Beginning in 1570, enslaved blacks were brought in large numbers from Africa to Mexico as the principal workforce in various domains, such as mining, cattle-raising, and fishing, but also housekeeping and other occupations. By 1742, the black population outnumbered the Spaniards. Today, about ten percent of Mexicans identify as black.
After the struggle for independence had begun and slavery was abolished, blacks formed communities mainly in Veracruz and in the Costa Chica region of Guerrero and Oaxaca. It was in this region of the Pacific coast that I first encountered this culture of African descent. I understood its importance and realized how it had remained invisible throughout the history of Mexico (1). In spite of being the country´s “third root” (2), it was not until 2015 that it even began to be acknowledged by Mexico’s constitutional laws.
Spurred on by personal curiosity, I started researching what eventually led to The Maroons and Their Fandango, a project in which photography allowed me to translate into images certain historic elements that refer to the current construction of the identity of people who refer to themselves as Afro-Mexican.
This project is an allegorical exploration of the past of a black community, its existence during the colonial period, and its settlement in its present territory, which has helped shape its identity.
Mara Sánchez Renero
In her work, Mara Sánchez-Renero examines issues of identity and territory, choosing places where she can create settings to explore the instability of the human condition. For ten years she lived in Barcelona, where she studied photography and contributed, through the creation of Malocchio and PHACTO, to the boom of collectives that emerged in 2006. In 2015 her project El cimarrón y su fandango (The Maroons and Their Fandango) won the “Nuestra Mirada” award of POY Latam and the SAIF Discovery Award of the Voies Off festival in Arles. A year later the series was exhibited in Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, as part of the visual arts program of the Mexican Secretaría de Cultura. Sánchez-Renero is a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte in Mexico.
1. Invisibility was the result of the denial and refusal to acknowledge the cultural characteristics of Afrodescendants in Mexico. Nevertheless, their rights have begun to be recognized, after the 2015 census carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) showed that this community represents 1% of the country’s total population.
2. 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 recommended, however, since it is inappropriate to speak of hierarchical tiers among the races.
A project commissioned by Africamericanos
These pictures are part of a documentary project, a first attempt at getting to know a community that has settled on the coasts of the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. The community is a vibrant one: it has an emotional connection to the earth, water, and skin; it has been resilient to the ravages of both human beings and nature; it has lived in isolation, in a sort of bubble, since it has been excluded by a society that refuses to acknowledge it as a culture, as part of the essential roots of present-day Mexico.
Yael Martínez examines the connections between poverty, the drug trade, and organized crime, and the way they affect communities along the Pacific coast of the state of Guerrero in Mexico. His work explores the relations between absence and presence, evoking a state of invisibilization through the symbolic representation of pain, emptiness, and oblivion. Martínez was awarded a grant from the Emergency Fund of the Magnum Foundation in 2016, and in the same year was nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award and for the Prix Pictet. He has been selected for the 6x6 Global Talent Program (2018) and the Joop Swart Masterclass (2015) of World Press Photo. He has contributed to The New York Times, Le Monde, and Aperture. In 2019 he was awarded the Photography and Social Justice Fellowship of the Magnum Foundation and he published his book La casa que sangra under the KWY imprint.