364plus1, African-descendants beyond candombe!

A project by Martin Herrera Soler and Daniel Charlone Herrera

Escobero | Julio Ce�sar Gonzalez | Empleado Direccio�n General de Registros (Martin Herrera Soler)

Escobero (stick holder) | Julio César Gonzalez | Empleado Dirección General de Registros (municipal employee)

For the spanish version of the project website including audio interviews, please check here.  English version of the website and audio interviews to be available soon.

Three centuries ago the first African-descendants arrived in Uruguay. The harsh conditions of their daily life are known; only one day per year, on the celebration of the llamadas (calling) were they allowed to honor and celebrate their cultural roots. Is it possible that today, as it happened so many years ago, we are reminded of the importance and influence of the African community in our society only this day? 364plus1 is a project that suggests a look into the space of the African-Uruguayan community at the beginning of the XXI century. Using the known symbols of the candombe as a starting point, which for many is their only contact with this community, 364plus1 proposes to widen the look beyond the obvious and question who is the person behind the character.  Martin | Daniel.  

I was working for the IT industry when left Uruguay. During the course of the ten years I was abroad, I became a photographer. In March 2008 I decided to return, in part moved by the notion that I could rediscover my country, now from the perspective of a photographer and through the lens of my camera.

Upon my arrival, the first thing that caught my attention was candombe (a native Uruguayan drumming rhythm). Daniel introduced me to it. The llamadas parade it’s a colorful, loud and crowded event that takes place the first Thursday and Friday of February.  At first I was drawn by the loud sounds, the highly produced dancers and the energy of the thousands of people that lineup on the side of the Isla de Flores street all throughout Barrio Sur and Palermo neighborhoods.

But as I got to photograph more of it, I became interested on how this widely adopted musical style and popular expression relates to our African-descendant community. In fact I started to ask myself, who are these people? Why is it that I know so little about them? How are their lives today and has over two hundred year improved in any way, shape or form their lives and opportunities?

All around Montevideo, people of all races play the drums to the rhythm of candombe. And yet, for many of us, our relationship to the African-descent community is circumscribed to one day per year, to that day in which they parade the narrow street of Isla de Flores in the celebration of llamadas. For those of us, all we know about this community is limited to the traditional symbols that define this celebration.

Mama� Vieja | Leopoldina Barboza | Empleada Dome�stica (pensionista) (Martin Herrera Soler)

Photo: Mamá Vieja | Leopoldina Barboza | Empleada Doméstica (pensionista).  By: Martin Herrera Soler

So the question stands. Who are they and what are their lives like? 364plus1 is then an attempt to shed some light into the Afro-Uruguayan community, to give them a voice and to share their lives the rest of the 364 days of the year.

 

The inner workings of the show…

The show consists of four large photographic portraits (1.65mts x 1.10mts) of four emblematic African-descendants who represent four of the traditional characters of candombe. A tocador – ‘drummer’ (Alfonso Pintos), a gramillero – ‘medicine man’ (Jaime Esquivel), an escobero – ‘stick holder’ (Julio César González, also known as Gonzalito) and a mama vieja – ‘old mother’ (Leopoldina Barboza, better known as Aunt Dina).

Each one was photographed in their own space, surrounded by their belongings, thus representing their everyday life (or, in other words, their life as it is the 364 days of the year that is not the one day of celebration).  This space was intervened, introducing an object that is a traditional symbol of candombe (representing what most of us experience as the whole of this community).  For example, in the case of Alfonso, the drumming stick he uses to play the drum.

 

 (Martin Herrera)

‘Drumming stick’, example of one of the four cards available to the viewer when visiting the show.

 

When the viewer arrives to the show he finds four small cards, and when confronted with the photograph he notices that a piece of each it is missing, exactly the same piece that the viewer is holding in his hand.  This small portion of the photograph, which contains the candombe symbol, represents only one of the 365 days of the year; it represents the llamadas day, and is only a miniscule aspect of the life of these persons.

 

Drummer | Ce�sar Alfonso Pintos | Municipal CIty Hall worker (retired) (Martin Herrera Soler)

Photo: Drummer | César Alfonso Pintos | Municipal CIty Hall worker (retired).  Example of one of the intervened photographs in order to highlight ‘the known’, or what is missing in the photo (symbol of candombe) and what is unknown to us about this community.

 

The portrait was taken in such a way that, once printed in the exhibited, such object occupies 1/365th of the area of the whole photograph. The cards that are offered at the show occupy, then, the equivalent to one day in the life of this person, and if 365 cards of that size were placed on the photo they would cover the totality of it.

Gramillero | Jaime Esquivel | Empleado Municipal, Escritor y Compositor (Martin Herrera Soler)

Photo: Gramillero | Jaime Esquivel | Empleado Municipal, Escritor y Compositor.  By: Martin Herrera Soler

 

 

 

Punto de Encuentro (place of gathering) gallery in Montevideo, Uruguay. 

 

Facing the work in this way, it becomes evident how restricted is, for many of us, our knowledge of the African-Uruguayan collective. Inevitably, the questions rush to our consciousness.  Many of the answers to these questions are found in the details of the photos.  And they are powerfully complemented by the excerpts of audio of the interviews recorded with each one. The audio gives these people and their stories a voice, and it is through the four interviews that we can enhance our comprehension and reach a wider view of the reality of this collective.

 

364plus1.  Observing the image and listening to the audio interview.  

 

Image gallery with the four characters and the four candombe symbols.