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The Yaqui, or Yoeme, are an indigenous people of the northwestern Mexican Sonora desert and a federally recognised tribe in Arizona. This exhibit explores the sacred connection to their homelands and cultural heritage. Copyright 2024 © The British Museum

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Species of the River is a collaborative research project developed in 2023-2024 between Yaqui architect Selina Martinez and the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research at the British Museum.

The project examines questions about territorial identity, dispossession, community memory and storytelling, exploring the Yaqui collection and the connection between culture and design in the Yaqui communities on both sides of the present-day US/Mexico border.

How can design perpetuate one’s ability to practice culture, especially when distanced from the environment that influenced one’s identity?

The Yaqui people (or Yoeme), are originally from Sonora, Mexico and their identities are explicitly in relation to the territorial homelands along the Rio Yaqui which has historically supported a dynamic ecosystem near the bottom of the Sonoran Desert biome. They have resisted since the Spanish colonisation, throughout colonial Mexico and the development of the Mexican state that started in the 19th century.

Currently, Yaqui people live in the original territory and Arizona, United States, as many families migrated throughout history. For those settled far away from this environment, preserving traditions and the relationship between species has become a challenge, where adapting through design has become a key aspect of expressing Yaqui identities.

Digitally situated on the Yaqui river, 3D scanned by Martinez in the summer of 2022, Species of the River is a journey along the riverside where essential elements of Yaqui storytelling come into place to unveil past, present and future of these tribes. The digital display is premised on multimedia storytelling, including 3D models of collections and spaces, historical and contemporary audio recordings, photography and illustration.

Species of the River exhibition is the result of fieldwork research in Sonora, Mexico and Arizona in the United States and collection research at the British Museum and other UK institutions, such as the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Library. The Yaqui collection in the British Museum was mostly acquired in the mid-19th century and entails a set of drinking bowls made from gourds and a Pascola mask, both commonly used in traditional ceremonies among Yaqui communities in Mexico and the United States.

For more information about this SDCELAR collaborative project visit Species of the River: Yaqui (Yoeme) communities in Mexico and the United States.


The Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research (SDCELAR) at the British Museum is dedicated to developing and supporting collection-based projects by collaborating with communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fostering a growing network of heritage communities, researchers, artists, and partners with the Museum, SDCELAR aims to broaden the understanding and visibility of Latin American and Caribbean collections at the British Museum and collaborate with Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the region.

For more information visit sdcelarbritishmuseum.org

About Selina Martínez

Selina Martínez is a Yaqui architect from Penjamo – Scottsdale, Arizona (US) who has dedicated her efforts to meticulously collect and produce digital 3D models, capturing cultural assets and significant sites deeply intertwined with Yaqui culture. Her project called Juebenaria, ‘plural’ in the Yaqui language, aims to construct a digital archive, brimming with engaging and educational visual content representing varied Yaqui narratives across the past, present, and future.

For more information visit selinamartinez.com


Selina Martinez

Creative Direction, 3D Scan/Modelling Production, Writing Contributor, Narrator @kaajoame

Magdalena Araus Sieber (SDCELAR)

Digital Curation, Project Management, Collection Research

Stevijn Van Olst (Cartelle Studio)

Creative Direction, UX/UI Design, 3D Mechanics, Modelling, Animation and Sound design

Johnny Slack (Cartelle Studio)

Technical Direction, Creative Development

Diego Atehortúa (SDCELAR) Curation, Collection Research

Laura Osorio Sunnucks (Linden-Museum), Collection Research

Arik Spaulding, 3D Scan Post-Production Assistance @arik_spaulding

Maria Trinidad Ruiz, Writing

Carlos Valencia, Writing @yaquipride

Indalecio Moreno Matuz, Translation, Narration

Gabriel Martinez, Testimony

Elexus Lopez, Photography @__3lzz

Alex Figueroa, Illustrations

Monica Martinez, Research Assistant

Creating and maintaining spaces that are truly centered around Yoeme people requires an ongoing and inclusive dialogue that considers the implications of the past, present, and future.

These conversations can reveal new methodologies for embedding culturally significant references and knowledge into the constantly evolving built environment and inform representations within the digital world.

Centering the lived experiences of the Yaqui is a powerful way to contextualize identity, share variations of identity, and spatialize identity through design response.

Ultimately promoting the resilience and evolution of the Yoeme people, ensuring the survival of Yaqui communities, culture, and knowledge.

The species collected here are native to the homelands of the Yaqui, or Yoeme, an indigenous people from the Río Yaqui valley in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora.