Artist’s Statement –La Costa Chica Project Description

La Limpia #16 - Sepia toned silver gelatin print on fiber with goldleaf surface work

My conceptual work is informed and inspired by the ethnographic research project I have been doing with women of African and North American indigenous descent in the communities of the coastal states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico. Over the past nine years, I have been working there, talking to women about their traditional spiritual and metaphysical beliefs and healing practices. I began to work in La Costa Chica in 1999 when I learned of the existence of Afromestizo communities (communities of Mexicans of African and North American indigenous descent) while studying photography at the Centro de la Fotografia Manuel Alvarez Bravo in Oaxaca. Since that time, I have been visiting the communities once or twice a year to work on my project.

My interest in the region also grew from my search for specific knowledge of my own family’s history. I was able to trace some family members journeys back to the late 1700’s and then encountered the impermeable veil of slavery. When I could garner no further details, I began to ask questions about how the slave ships’ itineraries and geographic locations of the delivery of their cargo may be related to my own family history. I wondered where descendents of my extended family members reside today, explained only by the probability that a slave ship’s passengers disembarked at a particular point along the Afro Atlantic route.

I began visiting Afromestizo communities and making portraits. Later, I did ethnographic interviews with the women in the communities, making photographs about their traditional beliefs and cosmologies, and their systems of traditional medicine. Spending time in the small towns, and learning from the women, I felt that I had found the wisdom that was lost to my great grandmothers and that which was not available to be handed down to me. My great-grandmothers were also descendents of African and North American Indigenous (Iroquois) ancestors. As I composed the photographs for La Limpia Project, I felt as though I had “participated” in the rituals and as a result was healed and found a new understanding of myself and my history.

La Limpia Project was inspired by what I learned about the women’s conceptualization of illness and their rituals related to healing. In this series, my body is the location of the rituals, and my photographs include the ritual objects and symbols the women use in their traditional practices. My gestures refer to those used in Kongo art to convey personal attributes that were valued by the culture. I began making these images in 2003, and continue at the present time. Each image is presented as a sepia toned silver gelatin print on fiber with goldleaf and mica surface work.

La Sombra Series refers to the traditional Afromestizo belief that illnesses and instances of spiritual disharmony and disequilibrium are related to an aspect of an individual called La Sombra, also known as the soul, or shadow. When La Sombra leaves the body, it is in spiritual danger, and the person who belongs to it may become sick. I made these images imagining what La Sombra is like and which symbols embody it. The images also represent my musings about the symbols that represent the feminine archetype. Each image is a silver gelatin print on fiber. I have also been experimenting with toners.

La Costa Chica Series includes images I made in the community of Juchitan, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. There, I was interested in daily life in the village, and in the women’s traditional healing practices. Each image is a silver gelatin print on fiber.

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