Francisco Toledo and Rafael Doníz
Juan Martín Gallery
Dickens 33-B, Polanco, México City
September 27th to october 30th 2014
Corn is central to food security and the nation’s culture as its staple food: 53 percent of caloric intake and 39 percent of the national diet protein comes from direct maize consumption, begins the foreword to “Transgenic maize in Mexico (in 15 pills)”, this edition was run by one of the plastic artists most involved in the fight against GMOs, the Oaxacan Francisco Toledo, who presented a couple of weeks ago his most recent work “El maíz de nuestro sustento”, in which he intervened 42 photographs concerning maize and the Mexican countryside.
The photographer Rafael Doníz, who became an assistant to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, was the one who donated to “Chico Toledo” -as they know him in the state of Oaxaca- photographs printed on cotton paper from a process of digitizing period negatives, which, date back to the early twentieth century. “The material was badly damaged, full of scratches and glued against each other,” he describes about the status of the negatives.
The collector of ancient photographs also recounted that these negatives came into his hands from Puebla. Someone who knew about his collector passion gave him the notebook containing the one hundred negatives. “First I wasn’t very attracted to them, but as soon as I saw them I realized that they showed peasants, and the theme of planting, I visualized one, and it was about a man who holding a cob; I was very attracted to them and I acquired them,” he says.
After three years of having kept the negatives, which in sight described scenes of rural life on a farm and the planting of maize, “I knew Toledo had to see them; I have known him for many years and I know that he has a great respect for photography, besides he is also a photographer,” he added and emphasized that the artist was also a promoter of the founding of the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center in Oaxaca.
“When those photographs came back to life, I brought them to Toledo; I didn’t imagine they would shock him so much that he even put his work aside and said ‘I’m going to brush them up, they’re fantastic, they’re touching,’ it was only ten days later when I returned to Oaxaca and he showed me what he had done with some of them”. They resemble the early-century postcards that Guillermo Kahlo used to color -he mentioned- to which the Oaxacan artist later confessed that he worked on them in this way, using pastel colors because it reminded him a lot of Juchitan’s postcards from his childhood.
The photographs that reappeared one hundred years later turned out to be a product (according to the clues of the collector, a woman from Guadalajara who recognized the images during the opening of the exhibition “The corn of our livelihood”) of the struggle of a left-wing farmer and thinker, Seferino Domínguez (1875?), originally from Puebla, who owned among his assets three farms, Santa Maria, Rio Grande, Coahuila, another in Morelos and one more in San Juan Machorro, Tecamachalco district, a few kilometers from Atlixco, Puebla.
“One of the photographs I rescued showed a sack with the legend ‘Hacienda de Santa María, Coahuila’, at the upper part of the sack shows the name Seferino Domínguez is shown, he mentions and that this was the initial clue to know the origin of the photographs. “The woman from Guadalajara sent an email to the Juan Martín gallery, where she mentioned that she had recognized the photographs of a book she had acquired precisely because the images caught her attention.” Later, according to Rafael, the clues would lead him to the title of the book: “La Agricultura”, publishing and stationery “La Helvetia”, dated 1913, which is believed to have been published with resources of the landowner.
The investigation did not end there, the name Seferino Dominguez was still unknown until he found an article in which historian Tonatiuh Romero Contreras cites Seferino’s name, and refers to him as “a populist, in the good sense of the word”, clarifies Rafael, a man who in the midst of the Mexican Revolution fought to bring a solution to the agricultural crisis at the time. “Apparently, he believed that the solution was to give the people the knowledge to work the land, he had a clear influence of Doroteo Arango; he had traveled to Europe to learn about the development of agriculture there,” he says.
“Agriculture will defeat war,” could be read in the 1913’s book… “curiously,” the collector mentions, “resembles an inscription that comes at the back of the negatives notebook, which he had not noticed until just a couple of days before the opening of the sample: ‘From creation to work; from destruction to war’; both ideas remind me of Francisco Toledo’s struggle against GMOs,” he says, “Chico Toledo hasn’t lost his floor, he’s like the tule tree, with a deep root to his land, his place and his country,” he enthusiastically shares.
It was approximately 5 months that Rafael Doníz invested in the rescue of those negatives, because digitization was gradually carried out gradually during his free time. “I would like to find out who the photographer is. There is a clue that it can be someone named ‘Kaizer’. You would have to propose a new exhibition with the photographs as they are, without working on them, to discover the whole plot behind it.”
“Toledo’s work resembles a magical touch, a kind of tale that must be disseminated among young people and universities, so the issue of GMOs can become a matter to reflect on. The struggle began a hundred years ago, as we see with Seferino Domínguez,” he concludes. A noble struggle to which it feels attached to because globalization is in everyone’s sight, he points out, “it is the result of the disruption of the natural, climate change, the cancer”.
“One of the tactics of globalization is to wipe out the roots of people, so that people have no identity, no deep values. Human beings are like trees, without roots we collapse, I don’t want to see my country in ruins.” The discovery of these hundred negatives also produced an intervention by Francisco Toledo, a reminder of the care that should abound around our origins: the maize of our livelihood. As he said, in the Yagul Valley in Oaxaca, there are the oldest cobs on the planet, reason enough to think about that livelihood.