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Trending: The Unknown Beauty of Afro-Mexicans

By David Schonauer   Monday March 19, 2018


Until three years, Afro-Mexicans didn’t officially exist.

It wasn’t until a 2015 census that Mexico acknowledged the 1.38 million citizens of African descent living in the country, noted the British Journal of Photography, which recently spotlighted the work of Cécile Smetana Baudier, a French Danish photographer whose series “Diaspora; Costa Chica"  documents an Afro-Mexican community in southern Mexico.

Despite that belated recognition by the government, Afro-Mexican people remain on the fringes of Mexican society, noted Baudier.

“Unfortunately, I doubt that it has made it any easier to be a black person living in Mexico,” she said. “In a country that idealizes anything with a Western aesthetic, Afro-Mexicans are often considered too black to be ‘real’ Mexicans.”

Baudier’s work in the tiny fishing village of El Azufre, on the southwestern coast of the country, offers an intimate look at an Afro-Mexican community where, noted BJP, identity “is a constant struggle.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times  recently featured the work of Mara Sanchez Renero, a Mexican photographer who discovered the rich culture of Afro-Mexicans in a community in the state of Guererro, during a ceremonial dance with African roots known as the Dance of the Devil.

Cécile Smetana Baudier: “Diaspora; Costa Chica”

It was a broken tooth that led Cécile Smetana Baudier to discover Afro-Mexicans, noted the British Journal of Photography. The French-Danish photographer was living in Mexico when the dental emergency occurred. While sitting in the office of a local dentist, she happened upon a book of photographs that documented a nearby Afro-Mexican community. Several weeks later, having photographed barely anything for six months, Baudier set off for El Azufre, a rural Afro-Mexican community fishing on the country’s southwestern coast.

“Identity is a constant struggle for people of African descent living in Mexico, particularly as the history of Afro-Mexican people is not taught in schools,” noted BJP. “I know that we came here from Africa, but that is all I know,” one local man told Baudier.

Young girls, noted the photographer, painted their faces white. “They thought they were ugly because they were ‘too black’,” she said.

Baudier has personal reasons for exploring concepts of identity, noted BJP. “I grew up with a dad who was born in Tunisia, raised in Algeria, studied in France and then worked and lived in Denmark. He never felt like he belonged anywhere,” the photographer said.


Mara Sanchez Renero: “The Cimmarón and the Fandango”

About all that Mara Sanchez Renero once knew of Afro-Mexicans was that they existed, noted The New York Times recently.

Thus it came as a surprise when, in 2014, she visited an Afro-Mexican community in Guerrero state. It was there she witnessed a ceremonial dance with African roots known as the Dance of the Devil.

“I had been told that in one area they arrived a long time ago when a boat had capsized. That story stayed with me. I had not known the story of slavery and the importance of blacks in Mexico. I found this story, and my ignorance,” she told The Times.

As we noted in 2017, Sanchez Renero was tagged as an Latin American photographer to watch by the International Photography Awards. Born in Mexico, Renero studied photography at Istitut d 'Estudis fotogràfic de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, and since 2009 she has been working as a freelance photographer in Barcelona and Mexico. She is also co-founder of the collectives Malocchio and PHACTO “Espacio de Acción Fotográfica” in Barcelona. Her series “The Cimarron and Fandango,” which focuses on the “lost” Afro-Mexican people of the Costa Chica region of Mexico, was featured by CNN  in 2015.

The work, noted The Times, fuses landscapes “with images graced with symbolic touches.” Stated CNN, “She attempts to ‘naturalize’ or visualize abstract concepts of memory, identity and emotion. As a result, her photos seem more like a dream than reality.”

“What was important to me was to tell a story,” she said. “I wanted to do, like, an illustrated history. It was a personal reinterpretation,” Sanchez Renero told The Times.
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At top: From Mara Sanchez Renero

1 Comments

  1. Donna Ferrato commented on: March 20, 2018 at 12:52 p.m.
    Magnificent photographs. Mara shows great respect for her subjects while at the same time giving them space to be themselves while she honors them with a powerful honest and true sensibility. Much respect for Mara Sanchez Renero. The Afro Mexican story is breathtakingly beautifuly.

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