Contraexpediciones (Counterexpeditions), the third exhibit in a series called Antioquias, will express diverse historically legitimized perspectives and models of representation of the natural world, with contemporary artistic visions and collective and community experiences from different territories as relates to their “natural” environment, primarily in the Antioquia region, with the objective of showing and reflecting on the tensions that exist between social groups and their land and resources.
The colonizer archetype that is implicit in the term “expeditions,” like those that occurred in Colombia in the 19th century, led the Museum to propose a series of “counter-expeditions” that would visibilize the diversity of views of territories and the collaborative construction of knowledge about them. The Museum of Antioquia will create an exhibit that showcases the projects realized in the region and in the city of Medellín, as part of this series of artist residencies.
The Beehive Design Collective was invited to participate in an artist residency as part of this project. As a group we have a strong politic of breaking with the monopoly that cities have over art and culture; instead we propose to take our projects to the countryside, to the mountains, to rural communities, and with this project we did exactly that. In reality, we were days away from starting our artists residency and we still hadn't located a community that could receive us, but at the last minute we were chosen by the people of San Bernando de los Farallones, in the municipality of Ciudad Bolívar in the southeast of Antioquia, better known as Farallones.
Really none of us had even heard of Ciudad Bolívar and much less of Farallones and their process of defending their territory against the threat of gold mining and deforestation, nor that a few months earlier had received support from some of our ant friends and the Colombo Americano of Medellin.
The bioregion of Los Farallones de Citará includes mountains from the western range of the Colombian Andes, which form part of the western Antioquian belt. These mountains, their cloud forests and páramos (high altitude plains ecosytems), form part of the Pacific shelf and have a great wealth of biodiversity, water resources, and metals – above all, gold. In the town of Ciudad Bolívar there is the threat of certain small mines, most of them illegal, according to the State, but up till now no large national or international company has come in.
Upon arriving at the Farallones Rural EducationInstitute (IER), they opened the doors for us and welcomed these bees as if we were in our own honeycomb. There the project was led by 8th and 9th grade students, who coordinated the process of community participation. This was our third time using an adaptation of the methodology that we use to create our graphics campaigns (our posters) to paint murals, as a collaborative process between the Bees and the community that is hosting us. A year ago we inaugurated this methodology with our friend Gauche Arte Callejero, and we had the pleasure of joining forces with him again for this project.
The first day we presented the Mesoamérica Resiste banner to the 8th and 9th grade students of IER, and we also showed photos and told them about the murals we've painted in La Jagua, Huila (Colombia) and Retalteco, Petén (Guatemala). The following days, people from the community took us to special and sacred places, and we also saw the problems in the region that are threatening those spaces. A short distance from the waterfall known as “Cola de Caballo” (Horse's Tail) there was a tunnel of a gold mine. Although there had been a notice from Corantioquia (a government environmental organization) and the government of Antioquia declaring that mine illegal and closed, a hill of tailings from the mine came all the way to the edge of the river, and water pipes in the river and tools inside the mine were enough evidence that people continue to work this mine. We also saw all over the area how the agricultural lands continued to advance, climbing up the mountainsides, deforesting and leaving nothing but grass or mono crops of coffee. Few farms used ecological agriculture in their production.
One of our outings was to the chain of waterfalls and tunnel known as el Charco de los Patos (the Duck Pond), around 15 students from the IER accompanied us and together we studied the vegetation and geography of the land as we walked. Later we did some drawing exercises with students, to make sketches for the murals, using phrases like “water is worth more than gold,” “life is worth more than gold,” and “water for life, not for mining” to help their ideas flow from their minds and on to the page. After individual students made some sketches, we did another drawing exercise but this time in groups of 4-5 students. That night we reviewed over 45 rough drafts and choosing the most common and representative themes, they created the sketches of the two murals they would paint in town.
Along with recognizing and recovering memory and knowledge of their territory, another important part of the process of creating the murals was that the students lost their fear of dreaming, of making mistakes, of creating and learning. Besides the students who from the beginning had a lot of energy and desire to participate, it was wonderful to see how those who were a little afraid to pick up a paintbrush lost their fear during the process and participated in the creation of the images. The two murals in town show not only the diversity of plants, animals, and the land, that everyone had to study to represent them well – they also show the diversity of artistic styles and perspectives and tastes of all of the people who participated. During the days that we made the murals, the neighbors of the block where we were painting were incredibly friendly and welcoming, giving us cold juice to drink when we were out in the hot sun, and letting us store our materials in their houses.
Besides the two murals in town, we did various other artistic interventions, including a third mural that was painted in the IER. The mural was the idea of an Emberá Chamí student who told us the story of how a great serpent created the rivers with its body. The last day, after finishing this mural, we had the opportunity to visit the student's community, the Hermeregildo Chakiama Reserve, and meet with the governor and professors from the school at the reserve to share experiences. We were able to tell them about the projects we'd done with the students, and the murals we made, and also show them the big Mesoamérica Resiste banners and share those stories. We left posters behind for the teachers to use in their classrooms. Everyone expressed that they liked the work a lot and we have an open invitation to come back, to paint murals in the community and to share more of the Beehive's graphics campaigns.
To open up the Town Hall meeting, the city councilors of Ciudad Bolívar, led by the Council President, tried to kill the space of the open forum with bureaucracy, imposing a protocol where the only people who could speak were people who had registered at least three days in advance. We Bees asked everyone we could in the auditorium if they'd known about this rule beforehand, and everyone responded that they hadn't. A group of people from many professions made their way to the front, including lawyers, chemical engineers, professors, the previous mayor of the Andes municipality, representatives from Corantioquia, and others, giving good arguments for why Farallones de Citará should become a protected area, speaking out in support of ecological agriculture and outright rejecting the mining industry. Every time people from the audience clapped or tried to speak or ask questions, the Council president threatened to suspend the town hall meeting and bring in the police to remove those people, pathetically hiding behind a rule of “not being able to show a bias.” Although the open space of the town hall meeting was frustrated by bureaucracy and the interests of the councilors, without a doubt the people of Farallones, Ciudad Bolívar and many others in the southeast of Antioquia don't want mining, and do want coffee production, their mountains, forests, and water, and they are ready to defend their territory against the threat of mining.
After that meeting, our artist residency with Contraexpediciones came to an end, and next we will be working on creating the exhibit for the Museum of Antioquia, a combination of photographs of the projects we worked on in Farallones and some examples of the Beehive Collective's graphics campaigns. For now the Bees will continue pollinating in other places, in familiar communities and new places too, but above all we are very, very thankful for the community of Farallones and its surroundings for receiving us, and dreaming, sharing and creating with us. We look forward to the possibility of being able to return as soon as possible to continue using art to recreate territory.