Afro-Mexican Artists Battle Colonial Rhetoric Of Black Mexican Culture
"We decided to do this exhibition to subvert and revolutionize certain conceptions brought forward by academia."
In Mexico, there’s been an identity battle between the people and its government to define and recognize authentic Afro-Mexican culture. While Africanity has been left out of the country’s history, one rasta artist and musician, Ras Levy, has been advocating for this portion of the population’s visibility for more than 15 years. His creations, along with those of other artists pushing the movement forward, helped to get the Mexican government to officially recognize the African ancestry present in their country in 2015. This lead to the country allowing the nearly 1.38 million Afro-Mexicans to label themselves as "black" on the 2020 national census forms.
In the one of many events to push forth a narrative that “subverts and revolutionizes certain conceptions brought forth by academia," to one more honest to black Mexicans and their culture, Levy created the “Mexico Negro” exhibit. Making use of the art of socializing, Levy uses music, discussion and pachanga to “expand on the art and recognize ourselves in it.”
In order to transform a canvas from a blank slate to relatable art, for “Mexico Negro,” Levy uses authenticity. One of his pieces features Emiliano Zapata whose symbolism is important to the Mexican culture because, as Levy puts it, “his fight was relevant.” But this specific piece also serves as a history lesson as it reveals that Zapata had some African heritage, while his pueblo was "home to several Afro-Mexicans.”
Levy tells Remezcla that his style can be compared to the role of the sound engineer in the dub music genre—which grew out of reggae. Just as the sound engineer remixes existing samples to create a new sound, Levy describes his process as taking pre-existing elements “that have already been created and re-envisioning them through colors, strokes, history, spirituality, etc.”
The “Mexico Negro” exhibit is on display in Mexico City at Rollos Chilangos. While Levy doesn't see his work traveling further than the borders of Mexico City and Afro-Mexican spaces, in terms of the diaspora, he believes the future holds a unification of "one African Nation."