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“I wanted to direct our photography towards questioning, toward an alternative narrative to the one particular imposed by the state in the face of terror”
Across the American continent’s Atlantic coastline, populations have – due to colonialism – become a mix of Native Americans, Africans and Europeans. In Mexico, however , the particular myth prevails that Dark people are non-existent. It is a concept deeply embedded in the national history, in a country created by the encounter between the Spanish invaders and the Indigenous individuals. Combining journalism and autoethnography, Mexican artist Koral Carballo explores the Afro-Mexican identification, assembling a visual story that reclaims erased histories and creates new and impactful forms of presence plus representation.
Started in 2017, the project, titled Siempre estuvimos muy bien ( We were always here), goals to dissect the Photography equipment presence in Mexico and the legacy of the people of African origin who were kidnapped and forced to work simply by slavers. Through its concentrate on ordinary lives, and a touch of the supernatural, Carballo’s function challenges the general neglect associated with origin and the internalised racism that continues to cloak Afro-descendancy. “I wanted to direct our photography towards questioning, toward an alternative narrative to the one particular imposed by the state when confronted with terror, ” Carballo states. “I am part of the generation of artists who had to grow up in the midst of a state-invented war to control territorial and structural reforms. ” The particular project connects past to present, ancestralism to contemporaneity, the familiar to the estranged. Additionally, it ties mystic traditions to the abominable history of enslavement, pushing the (re)discovery of identities.
In the first of many chapters, Carballo reports on the carnival associated with Coyolillo – an Afro-Mexican community in the south-east associated with Mexico. Here, and throughout, the photographer plays with visibility and obscurity, existence and absence. Born from the celebration of freedom to the one day of rest the captive were granted per year, carnival-goers disguise their faces and wear antlers to give them the appearance of animals. Interspersed with colour, natural motifs and costume, the imagery is both revelatory and obfuscated. “The colours of my work arise from the dialogue with the atmosphere of my territory, ” the girl reveals.
Due to the lack of acknowledgement, the factor of Afro-Mexicans to the business of the country has been efficiently erased. “I make dental accounts of the communities where I am working, and translate these into the visual. This approach is an important step for manifestation, which previously was just theorised by academia, ” Carballo explains. By environment eerie, ominous photographs against historical images, the second section documents the locations exactly where enslaved people were subjected to heinous crimes, as well as their locations of rebellion. Visually rebuilding the landscape, Carballo phone calls this a reflection on space as a witness of time. It traces the pain and struggle hidden by official narratives, and offers an energetic reclamation of Black background.
The project’s impact is the most poignant when Carballo uncovers family stories, including her very own. “Through theory – feminisms have been important guides – but also through listening to my loved ones, the idea of telling a story about what it means to be free has opened up paths to the romantic, the historical, and also the open public. ” Addressing the collection and preservation of household albums, and discovering her own genealogy, Carballo provides the small with tools to issue traditional canons and tell their story. Tales that will no longer deny the roots of the people, but proudly affirm their origin – a possible Afro-Indigenous mestizo.