JUS SOLI – “right of the soil”
The right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship.
As a group, Afro-Mexicans are largely invisible. In Mexico there are currently 1.4 million people that identify as Afro-descendant. The coastal region of Costa Chica (southern part of Guerrero and northern part of Oaxaca) currently has the largest population of Afro-descendants in Mexico.
Mexico’s constitution is the only one in Latin America that does not specifically mention citizens of African descent. In 2015, for the very first time, the Mexican government included its Afro-descendants in a national survey. The survey served as a preliminary count before the 2020 national census, where “black” will debut as an official category.
Constitutional recognition will hopefully give Afro-descendants access to educational grants, medical services, and social security benefits.
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” – Ralph Ellison
A few months after moving to Mexico City in Feb 2018, I read about Mexico’s African population in a book titled, ‘Flash of the Spirit’. This book documents how several African civilizations influenced different aesthetics and traditions throughout the U.S., Haiti, Trinidad, Brazil, and Mexico. It mentions a small part of Mexico called Costa Chica in which several thousands of people of African descent reside. Mexico has always embraced their indigenous culture, so I wondered why their history with their African roots wasn’t actively discussed. I spent the remainder of 2018 researching Mexico’s African history and culture. To my surprise, there were only a small amount of documentaries and articles that existed. At this point, I knew I had to make the journey to Costa Chica to shine a light on this underrepresented side of Mexico’s history.
A common narrative exists across the world pertaining to the people of the African diaspora: The racialization and subsequent colonization that launched the slave trade has continued to complicate the lives of people with a darker hue of skin today. Black people are at the bottom of the totem pole in every nation, treated as second-class citizens regardless of birthrights. Anti-blackness is not a new concept, and in this current political climate, the ramifications of inherent racism are becoming harder to ignore. Jus Soli is me doing my part as an artist of African descent. We have to tell our own stories. We have to continue to remind everyone that we are here and we matter.
If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.” – Chris Marker
Jus Soli will consist of a collection of images in various formats and an experimental short film. Production of Jus Soli is well underway. My team and I began filming in April 2019. Since then, we have traveled to Costa Chica four times. Our final trip will be at the end of October 2019 to film the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). After our final trip in October, I will begin the editing process with intentions to release the material early next year. Timing is everything with this one, as 2020 is the year in which “black” will debut on the census (as previously mentioned).
The rollout in 2020 will begin with an exhibition, followed by the admission of the short film into various international film festivals. Finally, I would like to publish a book offering a comprehensive look into Jus Soli.
My main objective is to include a number of site-specific installations inside the various villages of Costa Chica. The aim with these installations is to give the residents of these pueblos the opportunity to see themselves and their community in a way they never have. The Costa Chica installations will contain a number of portraits and video footage from Jus Soli.
Apart from the Costa Chica installations, I would also like to create a larger exhibition of the project in Mexico City, providing a more in-depth look of Jus Soli. The exhibition in Mexico City will feature photographs, a multi-channel video installation, and a sound installation. A selection of the portraits exhibited will appear as large negatives. This is a new way of showcasing photographs that I am currently experimenting with. Details of those “negatives” can only be seen by using a color-inverted device, a feature included in all smartphones. The video portion of the exhibition will be an immersive visual experience transporting viewers directly to Costa Chica. My goal is to abstract the short film and display the footage across several screens. The last piece of the exhibition will include a sound installation. This installation will feature the voices of several residents reciting the verse, El Negro. Verses are a unique style of poetry typically practiced by Afro-Mexicans from Costa Chica. El Negro is about someone attempting to scrub the color off an Afro-Mexican because they did not believe the dark complexion of their skin was real. But, as this person tried to remove the color, the blacker the Afro-Mexican became.
The motion picture component of Jus Soli will be an experimental short film that closely examines Afro-Mexican identity within various pueblos of Cost Chica Oaxaca. Instead of going the traditional documentary route, I’ve decided to make the film more observational. Shot on both 16mm film and digital formats, Jus Soli will be a melange of moving portraits giving prominence to Costa Chica’s African roots within their Mexican identity.
And we’re not stopping there! Jus Soli will also be transformed into printed matter. That’s right, we’re making a book as well. It will contain final images from the project, behind the scenes photos of the making of Jus Soli, screen grabs from the film, images of the exhibition installations, and a whole lot more.
Darryl Richardson (director + photographer)
Anthony “Tone” Torsiello (DP + Audio Tech)
Christopher Nechodom (Producer)