By María Daniel Balcázar
Kilombo is a tribute to the resilience and vitality of the African legacy in Brazil. During the Atlantic slave trade, approximately 4.8 million people from various regions of Africa were forcefully transported to Brazil, bringing with them only their memories. Through their oral history, in the remembrance of their customs, and in the covert veneration of their forbidden African deities, slaves found the spiritual strength to resist the harshest and most inhumane of treatments. Still today, rituals with ancient roots, such as Candomblé and Umbanda, nurture the hope and joy that is palpable in the everyday life and cultural manifestations of Afro-descendants.
The word Kilombo is of Bantu origin, meaning “camp”. In Brazil, spelled “quilombo”, it means the self-sustaining, remote communities founded by runaway slaves. Through history this word has been given a pejorative connotation in Latin America. This work is an attempt to highlight its association not only with rebellion and resistance, but also with a haven for freedom and dignity for the African diaspora, from generation to generation.
This work took place in the states of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, and São Paulo, from 2015 to 2018 in rural quilombos and urban favelas, in the welcoming homes, and places of work and of worship of Afro-Brazilians. They are still struggling against poverty, racism and violence and for the recognition of their rights, including the rights to the lands they have inhabited since their founding as rebel quilombos. From there, the African heritage has intertwined with Indigenous and Christian-European cultures, creating the richly multicultural XXI Century Brazil.
Maria Daniel Balcázar is a documentary photographer who specializes in long term photographic essays in Latin America. Most of her projects focus on the importance of traditions, their uniqueness and their universality, as sources of strength to survive and flourish, to resist, to adapt and to transcend adversity in everyday life and through extraordinary events. She has published two books and is working on her third one, with the common theme of highlighting the richness of syncretism, the depth of roots from different cultures, and the continuous remaking of identity. “Kilombo”, a photo book published by BurnBooks in 2019, is a tribute to the resilience and vitality of the African legacy in Brazil. This is an ongoing project on the African heritage in the Americas. “Herederos del Alba”, published in 2021, documents and celebrates history and myths, from precolonial to present days, from Andean, Amazonian, European and African experiences, as they are interwoven in Bolivia’s main festivity, the Oruro Carnival.
Balcazar is also currently working on the publication of a third book, a visual narrative, honoring the life and work of poet and a defender of human rights activist, Puerto Rican writer Julia de Burgos. Maria Daniel first studied fine arts in Bolivia and Sweden. She taught and organized cultural activities before turning her experience in several countries and languages to social communications, and then photography. She works as a freelance photographer for nonprofit organizations and as an editorial photographer. Her photographic work has been exhibited in galleries, universities and museums in various cities in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and the United States.
Photo Essay edited by Alejandra Martínez