A photo documentary project about today’s life in Helvécia – a small village and a former Swiss-German colony in Brazil that, using slave labor, was dedicated to the cultivation and export of coffee in the XIX century.
200 years ago, immigrants from Germany and Switzerland crossed the ocean to find a new life in Brazil. The king of Brazil offered lands to Europeans who wanted to cultivate plantations and to civilise the country. These colonies were small farms manured by the owner and his family where the use of slaver labor were forbidden. However, there was one exception: the colony Leopoldina-Frankenthal, that originated the small community of Helvécia. At a time when the institution of slavery was under a strong external pressure, the colony prospered economically and by 1850 was responsible for almost 90% of the coffee production of the Province of Bahia - on the strength of over a thousand slaves from Africa. Among landowners, two families stood out from the rest: the Swiss family Flach and the German family Krull. They were the largest coffee exporters and slave owners of the colony. After the colony’s economic decline mainly due to slave abolition in 1888, the name of Flach’s farm lasted and became the village’s name. Today, Helvécia is home to few families of German and Swiss descent. More than 80% of the population, however, are of African descendants.
This works intendeds to shed light on the link of this cultural encounter. Both European and African cultures survive in a silent ideological confrontation, where black kids plays with white dolls and Christian evangelicals still point afro-descendants cultures as evil in their speech.
With Black Helvetia, the Swiss-Brazilian photographer Dom Smaz understands that there are probably as many exploiters as victims of exploitation in his ancestral history. He hopes to help foster an understanding of how deeply waves of global migration, whether voluntary or not, inevitably shape a local culture: in the past as well as the present.
Text : Milena M. Neves
> version française
> Neue Zürcher Zeitung's press article (German)
> La Liberté's press article (French)
> Leica Fotografie International's "One Photo - One Story" (English)