Often a photograph will come along that sparks controversy, but very rarely does it also start an intelligent and necessary conversation about race in Latin America.
After a certain photo of a diverse set of models all from the Dominican Republic made the rounds on social media, race and identity became a hot topic of discussion once again for all Latinos.
The photo of the Dominican models was posted by Twitter user UsDominicans809, “They’re all Dominican; so next time somebody says ‘you don’t look Dominican’ tell that dumbass, we’re all unique,” as written by user UsDominicans809 in an effort to debunk stereotypes.
The reaction to the photograph varied but one concept was consistent: bringing these women together transmitted the diversity that exists in the Dominican Republic.
A sentiment that the Dominican photographer, Edgar Nunez, appreciates and is now motivated to do more of now that the photo was so well–received in the United States.
“I was very surprised to see how popular the photo was on Twitter. I didn’t even know until my friends started sending me screenshots of the article,” he told us during an interview.
“I thought the reaction was brilliant. What artist doesn’t want their work appreciated by so many people?” he added.
The project began with a need to express the idea of race in a global sense because at the end of the day he said “we are all brothers and sisters” which is why the title of the photo project was “Como Hermanas” which loosely translates to “Like Sisters.”
The photo is actually part of a series that launched in 2011 and was originally inspired by a famous photograph “The Nude” by Herb Ritts with supermodels Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz and Naomi Campbell.
Now, he wants to tackle a subject that hits close to home and is sure to keep people talking because it will keep diving into the touchy subject that is race in the Dominican Republic.
“This next time around I want to focus on the origin of our race as Indians. I’m not completely set on the concept but I’m sure I will continue to work artistically with nude projects,” Nunez said.
In his eyes, if people accept his work and it encouraged a vital conversation about a taboo subject like race; then it’s possible for Dominicans to accept their own identity when it comes to race.
If only that were the case but as it is widely known, discussing this complicated issue and accepting one’s own African descent in the Dominican Republic is not an easy feat. In fact, words to describe one’s own so-called degree of blackness like moreno, trigueno and blanco-oscuro only confirming the self-denial.
“Dominicans should be able to appreciate our natural beauty. It should never be censored,” he said.
Nunez wants his next project to pay homage to the Indians who welcomed Christopher Columbus to the new world in 1492 also known as Taínos.
Their origins are sometimes a cause for debate but, according to The Smithsonian Magazine, their world “gradually spread from Venezuela across the Antilles,” and settling in what is now known as Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Some believe the Taino population reached more than three million on Hispaniola right before the 15th century ended. But, their population quickly dwindled as many began to starve, died of smallpox and measles and some even committed suicide to avoid being enslaved. So, if you can imagine, about 85% of the Taino population vanished by the early 1500s.
Over the years, many have searched for descendants of the Indians and, according to Jorge Estevez, a self-described Taino from New York City, “There’s no such thing as a pure Taino.”
“Just like there are no pure Spaniards. It’s not even clear about the ethnicity of Christopher Columbus! The guys who came with him were mixed with Moors, with Sephardic Jews, with Basques—a great mixture that was going on,” he said to The Smithsonian Magazine.
Which brings us back to the “Como Hermanas” photograph in that it’s so difficult to identify with just one race in the Dominican Republic because it’s been so heavily blended over so many years.
Nunez’s hope is that his photographs will not only help Dominicans from all walks of life appreciate their complicated identity but actually celebrate the fact that it isn’t just “one race” but a diverse one that is made up of Indian, Spanish and African descent.