SINCE a New Year's Day rebellion erupted in southern Mexico,
photojournalists from around the world have been snapping pictures
of the Indian guerrillas and townspeople there.
So has Carlota Duarte. But instead of using her camera to
document violence, she is using it to inspire hope.
Now back in Cambridge, Mass., after a seven-week trip to
Chiapas, Mexico, Ms. Duarte is staying tuned to events leading up
to Mexico's Aug. 21 presidential elections, while brainstorming on
how to raise funds and awareness here.
Mexican politics has little to do with Duarte's mission to teach
Mayan Indians ways of chronicling their ancient culture using
modern technology. But the mounting tension from this year's Indian
uprising has deeply touched the people with whom she works, and in
"It has directly affected our work," Duarte says of the
revolt's reverberations. "We never knew if the next day we could
do what we planned. We never knew if there would be road blocks or
For the past two years, Duarte has worked with a 10-year-old
Indian cultural cooperative in San Cristobal de las Casas, founded
to preserve Mayan history and tradition and provide an outlet for
the Indians' creativity. Members of the cooperative write and
publish books of Indian history as well as producing original
plays, puppet theater, and radio and video programs.
Initially, Duarte built a darkroom with the cooperative's 10
members, instructed a group of them in basic photography, and
assisted in their project to publish original plays in comic-book
form, known as fotonovelas in Spanish.
She has also encouraged individuals within the cooperative to
create their own ways of photographically preserving their culture.
From her most recent trip to Chiapas, she has brought back three
members' pictures of their communities that will be the backbone of
an exhibition she is planning to show here in the fall (the place
and dates have not yet been set). "It's important that they are
showing their communities the way they see them," she says.
But the most tangible result of her teaching thus far has come
from the successes of the youngest artist in the cooperative, a
woman named Maruch Santiz Gomez. "I find it quite wonderful to see
what has happened when she's given tools," Duarte says of Ms.
Santiz Gomez was a shepherd before joining the cooperative. She
still lives at home in a nearby village with her parents, six
brothers and sisters, and her sister's family. …