Partners Hakeem Khaaliq and Queen Muhammad Ali of Nation 19 shed light on Mexico’s Afro-Mexican population in “Invisible Mexico,” at the MonOrchid. This interactive exhibition uses the app Blippar to give the viewer facts and alternative views on a people that were not recognized until a recent survey for the upcoming 2020 census. “Invisible Mexico,” was built through the 10 years of travel done by Khaaliq and Ali, and is full of stunning portraits of the citizens who identify as part of this multilayered culture.
Khaaliq and Ali introduce us all to these outsiders within in their own country through these portraits. The text that appears through the augmented reality is varied, and ties the Afro-Mexicans to events past and present. A photo of the Temple of the Inscriptions, the largest Mesoamerican pyramid structure for the Maya civilization morphs into an active timelapse, revealing that an African Egyptian Ankh was found here, in the tomb of the King K’inich Janaab Pakal.
Many of the portraits are often close up and personal. They connect the viewer to the Afro-Mexican people and give insight to their thoughts on how they self identify. However, most of all, they give insight of the human to human message of tolerance and acceptance that a country can be a melting pot that is rich in diversity. The idea of skin color and connotations is complex, and some discrimination is still seen towards those with darker skin in Mexico. Lighter skin is associated with with wealth and connections to Europe. A more recent example of this discrimination could be seen in the airline Aeromexico’s commercial casting call that called for “nobody dark” to apply. The pictures do not always have text, the photo above gradually moves in closer, so that is serene but purposeful gaze is brought front and center.
With the term “Invisible Mexico,” it is easy to assume the Afro-Mexican population are not in touch with their African roots. Contrarily, many actively celebrate and connect by performing dances and celebrations that bring them closer to their African ancestors. Afro-Mexicans perform the La danza de los diablos (The dance of the devils), a ritual that has been developed by their customs, but are tied to Africa as they have similar symbolic meanings. They are not invisible to themselves and the area where they reside (Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca) however, once they step outside these areas, many feel torn between two cultures. The government reaction to their existence is self explanatory; outlets seemed surprised that 1.38 million “Afro-Mexicans” were “discovered” by simply asking.
Hakeem Khaaliq and Queen Muhammad Ali bring an impressive amount of information that is in integrated into “Invisible Mexico” with augmented reality. This population has been newly introduced to the world and there is hope that Mexico will be making changes to reflect their population and numbers in official records, as well as constitutional reform. Their official recognition is a step in the right direction, however more work should be done in the future. Until then, the voice that is given to the Afro-Mexicans by Khaaliq and Ali through photographs is a beautiful example of the complexities of a people and their identity and customs.