Afro-Indigenous symbiotic ecologies
This project is the result of continuous collaborative work between four artists, activists, and researchers. Our work seeks to document environmental racism in our native state of Guerrero, Mexico, especially in the Costa Chica region, an Afro-indigenous geography. Our collective regional histories have forged Black and Indigenous (Amuzgo, Tlapaneco, Mixteca, and Nahuatl), symbiotic ecologies, biologies, and mythologies for centuries. Working from this geography, we press for a critique that centres on the histories and afterlives of slavery and colonialism. We conceive of these historical phenomena as fundamental economic processes that continue to impact ecologies and our interdependent ways of life. Moreover, we face challenges from multiple scales ranging from the local to the global. With this project, we push for an understanding of geography as an embedded practice that intertwines cosmological lifeworlds where roots are knotted with veins, rivers with emotions. Our project for the Environmental Racism is Garbage Virtual Research-Creation and Art Symposium focuses on the socio-cultural and ecological impacts of extractive mining in our country, state, and region.
The mining situation in Mexico has unearthed long histories of extractivism, accumulation by dispossession, and ecological devastation. Previous government administrations in the past two decades awarded 24 thousand mining exploration and exploitation concessions that cover an area of 17 million hectares of land, 9% of the Mexican national territory (Servicio Geológico Mexicano, 2019). In Guerrero, 267 mining companies with foreign and national capital are in operation, together they oversee 917 mining projects; of which, just over 70% are of Canadian origin. Most of these mining projects are located in our neighbouring mountainous regions, such as Cochoapa el Grande in La Montaña, a municipality connected to the Costa Chica through various waterways. These waterways include the San Pedro River, which we call the Suljaa River which flows down through major municipalities such as Xochistlahuaca, Ometepec, and Cuajinicuilapa, way down to the Pacific Ocean. This river is the source of all the artwork we present in this exhibit. This artwork seeks to document some of the ways in which humans and non-humans use the river as a life-nurturing entity.
Since 2010 and 2016, Catsuu López and Amayrani Martínez (respectively) have been working to build regional coalitions with other indigenous groups living in these mountain regions, including the Tlapaneco and Mixteca peoples. Working with local groups, they travel to the mountains seeking to build solidarity movements in defence of Indigenous territories. Their work consists of drawing and constructing exploratory, multidisciplinary, and grounded critiques using local knowledge, ways of being, and value systems to focus on the existing relationships between human beings and nature, including the spiritual commonalities that they share as Indigenous peoples. These solidarity movements emphasize the interconnections between topographies, and the need to think about the socio-ecological impacts of mining, beyond the geographic specificity of any particular mine or mining operation. Geography implies connection and we want to highlight the symbiotic relationship we have to our neighbours in the mountain, who have been subjected to intense state and market forces that seek to divide and conquer their territory without regard to vast ecological damage to our interconnected ecological lifeworlds.
As for myself (Ulises), I have recently joined these solidarity movements as a participant-observer. As part of a two-year ethnographic research project, my work links Indigenous and Afro-Mexican ecopolitics to activate existing political potentialities based on shared geographic proximity, exposure to risk, and responsibility for the care of human and non-human life. Together we conceive waste in all its overlapping temporalities (past, present and future) as a threat to the psychosocial, physical, and spiritual-mystical lifeworlds that are evinced in this geography. Thus, we highlight waste not only as a product of extractive mining but also as a source of acute inequality that marks the Costa-Montaña regions as the two most impoverished regions in the state, with La Montaña as the most impoverished region in the country. (CONEVAL, 2015). Apart from the socio-economic class dynamics, the racialization of these groups has also played a fundamental role in the extractive social and physical activity of infrastructures that generate waste in their material and psychic iterations. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated structural neglect and existing inequalities, leaving municipalities open to vulturous economic attacks, waning resistance and solidarity movements that we have been building for a while now.
On a positive note, the current government administration has refused to grant new concessions. However, they have failed to order a systematic review of the process that federal agents used to grant the existing concessions. We are exploring ways on how to build on the work of Júba Wajiín (also known as San Miguel del Progreso), a Tlapaneca community in the mountains that launched and won a long legal battle for its territory, questioning the constitutionality of mining laws in Mexico that violate the rights of indigenous peoples. This constitutionality now includes Afro-Mexican groups who now have constitutional protection on par with Indigenous groups since 2019, when Mexico became the last Latin American country to recognize Black and Afro-descendants as an ethnic group in the country. The Júba Wajiín case left an opening in the legal system for further challenges to the constitutionality of Mexican laws that allow exploitation, neo-extractivist, and unsustainable mining models that are based on the legacy of slavery and colonialism. There is more work to be done in solidarity with all living and spiritual organisms that nurture and animate human and non-human worlds.
We leave you with the following record of our artistic representations of the symbiotic relations that we continue to build. Moreover, we share with you this report which documents the mining situation in Mexico, the state of Guerrero, and the Costa-Mountain region as well as more information about our efforts in defence of the territory. Please bear in mind, this is not meant to be an academic document understood through a philosophical-theoretical perspective (not yet, at least). This is a collectively written account of our current understanding which we will continue to develop. We welcome all suggestions and we thank you kindly for taking the time to explore our exhibit. (Este texto se puede leer en castellano aquí.)
–Ulises Moreno-Tabarez (email@example.com)
-César Catsuu López (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My work is an approach and reflection on the problems that the Ñomndaa (Amuzgo) territory has been undergoing in recent years, due to the attacks including the dispossession and exploitation of our natural assets (water, forests, wood, stone, and mineral materials) by the idea of development and progress of a caciquil (powerful families that have amassed and maintained power since the colonial era) policy that prevails in the municipality of Xochistlahuaca. Also due to the interference of mining companies in the mountains and mountains of the southeast of the state of Guerrero. That is why my continuous connection and placement with the communities through the close participation with the ejidal and communal nuclei that defend the Ñomndaa territory. I search materialize through drawing, painting, photography, video and objects, the relationship of spirituality that there may be between Ñomndaa thought with its territory. (Mi perfil en castellano se puede ver aquí.)
–Keila Martínez-Martínez (email@example.com)
I began my artistic career in 2019, with my first solo exhibition at the Xochistlahuaca Municipal Auditorium. Since then, I have presented in four solo and group exhibitions. In 2019, these exhibitions included: “Still Life and Landscape” [Still Life and Landscape], “Amuzgo Drawing and Painting” [Amuzgo Drawing and Paintings] Municipal Auditorium of Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, Mexico. Among those that stand out is one exhibition in 2020 “Youths in Defense of Territory” Hotel Fiesta Americana Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico. And the most recent group exhibition which I participated at the Máximo Gómez Muñoz Auditorium called ArtCovid20 SULJAA, in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, Mexico. For this project, I worked on a piece called “Vida en Arroyo Grande” [Life at Arroyo Grande], documenting artistically, the beauty of the waters that flow through this river. I am currently in the process of engraving project, a series called “Loteria Amuzga” [Amuzga Lottery] that seeks to highlight various key sites and aspects that we, Nan’cue Ñomdaa (Amuzgos), use in our daily life without noticing. This series continues to document the irreplaceable wealth of our territory and celebrate the relationships we have built over centuries on the basis of resistance, endurance, and beauty. (Mi perfil se puede leer en castellano aquí.)