After five years of travel and research in Brazil by Dom Smaz - documentary photographer - Milena Machado Neves - journalist - and Christian Doninelli - journalist -, this historical case study illustrated with photography investigates the little-known history of Helvécia - a village founded in the early 19th century by a handful of Swiss and German settlers. With a concession ceded in 1818 by the Royal Government of Brazil, the settlers developed a colony that would quickly prosper with the work of a large enslaved labor force of African descent and the support of the Swiss Government. The colony became one of Brazil's largest coffee exporters until slavery was abolished in 1888.
This historical case study and associated photographs investigates how this colony operated and the way in which the descendants from enslaved people have since coped and developed resilience in a territory far from their motherland.
A book on the subject has just been published by Lars Müller Publishers and an exhibition of 350m2 at the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva - Switzerland - has just been realized - from October 2022 to January 2023 - which has been presented to more than 13'000 visitors.
It seemed important to us that this subject was covered, both for the Swiss people and for the inhabitants of Helvécia, who for the most part had limited knowledge of their own history. Moreover, the fragile traces of the past are on the verge of disappearing. In the village, little is done to preserve history, both materially and educationally. In Switzerland, a few rare documents are kept in the Federal and States Archives, often falling to dust and in too poor condition to be digitized. Smaz was lucky enough to photograph some of them which are reproduced in the book.
In addition to photos and documents, the book is contextualized with historical facts and cultural aspects by different authors, Shalini Randeria - social anthropologist, rector of the Central European University in Vienna since 2021, former rector at the IHEID in Geneva, Rohit Jain - social anthropologist, associated researcher with the University of Zurich, Izabel Barros – historian, decolonialist activist in Brazil and Switzerland, as well as Flávio dos Santos Gomes – historian specialized in the subject of slavery, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.