© 2022



TEXT Maryam Arshad
Black Waters by Mateo Vargas
Cuautitlán, State of Mexico

“He struggled with his thoughts for several hours, casting them into the black waters of the river” — Juan Rulfo (Pedro Páramo).

The river is its own living vessel, speaking, moving, and carrying tragedy and ruin with its waters. Waters that have been tainted, Aguas Negras, Black Waters. Dark cloudy skies reflect the dark cloudy waters of the  Cuautitlán River. Over 50 years of pollution and disruption that have left clean waters solely as ideas hidden in memories of past generations.

Capulin cherry trees, Prunus salicifolia, are no more. The water is not pure enough to bathe in, or wash clothes in. The river flows from the dam of Lake Guadalupe. The river is now pure sewage water. Unclean for over five decades, enough time for grandchildren to bear witness to the polluted waters and the havoc it has wreaked on the river and its inhabitants and communities. Death occurred within the aguas negras. Death that the families who resided close by to the river were unaware of. Death that was accompanied by ambiguity, fuelled by sadness.

The waters came close to overflowing, downpour after downpour. It carried too much. The body, and the water. It was grief that didn't allow for the distinguishing of the cause of the river's surge. Grief that the waters carried, from the river beds to doorsteps. The government’s words rang out repetitively. Keep your belongings close, and your consciousness and fear closer. Fear that stretched out at the threat of the black waters overflowing.

What else is left in Black Waters?

These moments have been cascaded together, stitched into the matriarchal generations that know the river. Passed on from grandmother to granddaughter, through this moving piece of history and tragedy. The river rushes through moments of humanity, ecology, and memory. The tinted monochrome colouring has moments of clarity, flashing moments that render the black and white waters true to their lifeless shade.

Once upon a time, aguas negras did not exist. Capitalist greed, overconsumption, inequality and pollution tainted the waters, in physicality but not memory. The river is in control, the land and the people are at its mercy. It carries with it anger and distress, the same kind that the people have who remember the river as it once was. The oral history and visual collection become a dialogue across time, family and memory. Aguas negras, Black Waters are melancholic and restless.

“What more can we leave behind than a memory?” — Aguas Negras/Black Waters.

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