Photographer Cécile Baudier’s enchanting series Diaspora; Costa Chica captures the Afro-Mexican community living on the margins of society in southern Mexico’s Costa Chica. Her images are intriguing, graceful and expertly shot, but when Cécile was studying photography she didn’t receive the support you’d expect. “I was constantly told that my work was too aesthetic or too personal and that I should try to be more objective. I think that’s the worst advice I have ever received. If you know who you are, your work becomes a reflection of how you see the world. That is what will set you apart from the many great photographers out there,” Cécile tells It’s Nice That. Her distinguished photographs are an intimate representation of a group of people who have largely gone unnoticed.
Cécile had been living in Mexico for eight months, when she read about the Afro-Mexican community in a book that had been left behind at the dentist. After some research, Cécile discovered the shocking prejudices this group faced: It was only in 2015 that the Mexican government recognised the 1.38 million persons of African descent as Mexican citizens. “When I spoke to different people from the Afro-Mexican community, many – especially women – said they had been told that they were “too black” to be Mexican,” Cécile reveals. Diaspora; Costa Chica focuses on individual faces and stories, emphasising these people’s humanity. Her images capture the beauty and grace of the Afro-Mexican community and Cécile hopes her series might help their culture gain some overdue recognition.
It is no accident that Cécile’s images have a soft, magical quality about them. The photographer explains that the community’s culture is steeped in superstitious fables. “The stories they told me about their African heritage were fascinating. They were not built on facts, but on myths and stories their grandparents had told them when they were kids,” she says. In this way, her ethereal portraits capture not only personal narratives but also overarching traditions that permeate the Afro-Mexican experience; her photographs are both character studies and cultural representations.
The series also prompted the artist to reflect on the concepts that infiltrate her various projects. “Identity is a big theme in my work. My dad was born in Tunisia, raised in Algeria and studied in France. He never really felt that he belonged anywhere and I have seen how that feeling of alienation can define you.” It is these feelings of isolation Cécile hopes to combat through Diaspora; Costa Chica as she challenges the viewer to reconsider what Mexican society is and what it looks like.
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