African tribeswoman in the creek

Cimarrona: Women and African Spirituality

31 Jul 2019 EMERGI-CUBES
African Tribeswomen with colorful headress with facial makeup

Featuring: Johis Alarc贸n

Presented by:

United Photo Industries EMERGI-CUBE Program


Curated by:
James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of the New York Times Lens Blog


The term Cimarrona refers to the wild female spirit. It holds an African essence, and it is within all forms of resistance against slavery and discrimination. This ongoing project explores the representation of women and African spirituality in Ecuador.

The goal for this essay is to explore black women鈥檚 cimarrona knowledge, and to reconfigure the collective imagery of black identity beyond the superficiality of skin color, from its deeper creative, and liberating significance. The black community comes from a strong history through slavery and social exclusion; they have been abducted and forced to abandon their ancestral life. Nevertheless, this community is deeply religious, and all interpretations of life have a spiritual connotation.

In the XVI century the African population arrived in Ecuador as slaves from Cartagena. In the XIX century, they were freed and many of them moved on to the principal cities of Ecuador. Actually, around 8% of Ecuadorians are African and 50% are women. The main palenques areas are on the coast, mountain, rural, and in urban zones around Esmeraldas, Guayas, Pichincha, Ibarra and Carchi.

Black women become visible as protagonists of a historical liberation, as guardians of ancestral African practices, as archivists of cultural memories, and to challenge resistance to the cultural diaspora in Ecuadorian territory. Cimarrona is a project that wants to tell how the spirit of Africa lives and expresses itself in Ecuador through femininity, family, and community.

Supported by AECID Afroamerican Projects.

Make sure to also check out related EMERGI-CUBES Walking Tour with James Estrin.


Johanna Alarc贸n, (1992) is a freelance documentary photographer and educator in Ecuador. Her work focuses on social, cultural, and human rights, and gender-related issues. She is a Member of Fluxus Foto, Woman Photograph, and PH Museum.

Her work has been published in: Lens Culture, The New York Times, Folha de Sao Paulo International, El Pa铆s, Bex Magazine, Lifestyles Magazine, The Spacebar, Media Ninja, La Barra Espaciadora, Community Press.

She has participated in group exhibitions at: Guy Woodland, Lumix Festival, Visible Cities, FLUZ. Johanna attended the 2019 New York Times portfolio review, 2nd Latin American Bronx Documentary Festival, and is a Joop Swart Masterclass, and 6脳6 Global Talent nominee.

Johanna’s recognitions include the Everyday Projects Mentorship Award, Afroamericanos award (Ecuador), and the Juan Antonio Serrano photojournalism award. She received an Honorable Mention in the photobook competition RM. Mentor in 20 Photographers in Campament. Currently, she works on assignments, teaches, and continues with her personal projects.

Website | Instagram