By: Emma Ferguson
The Beehive Design Collective showcased their most recent installment on corporate-driven globalization to Gallery 101. On Feb. 12, prints of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic were featured along with a video about the group’s history and work.
The Collective is an activist group that pushes the lines of politics and art. The group is anti-copyright and challenges the idea of creative ownership by keeping the identities of its members anonymous. Multiple members presented the group’s material, going by the simple handle of “Bee.”
The Beehive Design Collective’s mandate is to “cross-pollinate the grassroots” with dense graphic campaigns on various topics, including Free Trade, biotechnology, biojustice, and the G8. The group is an influential force within activist communities. Their mandate is beautifully represented in a central image in Mesoamérica Resiste. Named “the Junta,” the image shows numerous different animals that wouldn’t normally congregate gathered together to pursue a common goal of resistance.
Mesoamérica Resiste was nine years in design, consultation and execution. The poster was initially a response to the exploitative economic strategy of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) of 2001. The PPP affected Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, southern Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. The stated goal of the PPP was to expand the energy sector, transportation, telecommunications, and tourism as well as facilitating increased trade. The plan was criticized by the Bees for its focus on free trade and foreign corporate investment at the cost of Indigenous land rights and environmental degradation. The PPP morphed into the Mesoamerica Project in 2009 in an attempt to deflect criticism, but the major tenets of the project remained unchanged.
The poster itself has two images: the first folds out into the second. The outside image documents the corporate-driven globalization of the Mesoamerica Project. Oppressive practices by international organizations, governments, and private corporate industry are intricately detailed. The layout of this outer image resembles a conquistador map and so makes explicit the connection between European colonization and the exploitation that continues today.
The interior of the graphic details the strength and resiliency of local movements. More than 400 species of animals and 100 species of plants found within the region affected by the Mesoamerica Project were hand-drawn in fine detail to represent the people of the region. Images of grassroots struggles wind around the Ceiba tree – the “tree of life” by Guatemalan tradition. Political movements are celebrated in this part of the graphic, including action in Atenco, Mexico where efforts to build an airport were defeated in the face of police brutality. Movements with strong female leadership are also depicted in the art as they struggle against the different faces of militarization. The roots of the Ceiba tree show how this resistance is grounded in traditional scenes of culture.
While the anonymity of the Collective’s design pushes the boundaries of intellectual property, it also leaves open to question the degree to which Indigenous leadership factors into the design. The bees described a process wherein the Beehive Design Collective gathered images and stories for over five months in Mesoamerica with people on the front lines of resistance. The Collective members then designed images to reflect these stories and brought them back to the communities that were consulted. As an example, an image of a library to represent knowledge was changed to reflect the oral tradition of knowledge sharing. The question nonetheless remains: is this sufficient representation?
The Beehive Design Collective has long been a leader in activist communities, and as such they need to balance that with increased reflection on privilege. The Bees I talked to acknowledged white skin privilege, and privilege of North American citizenship, but did not suggest solutions.
I would have liked to see more of the grassroots groups that the Beehive Design Collective collaborated with in this graphic. On the Beehive’s website different people and groups are acknowledged, however if the goal is to celebrate resistance and help grassroots movements, then these groups should have had a more central focus. On their website the Collective states that they work with Local Revitalization Projects without saying what these projects are.
One of the challenges faced by the Beehive Design Collective is that to maintain the very commendable practice of ensuring non-ownership of a collaborative graphic, their accountability to those who the graphic is purportedly for has been watered down. It behooves the group to reconsider their ideology, and assess whether the benefits of anonymity outweigh the costs of insufficiently representing the groups they stand in solidarity with on the ground.
This article was first published in The Leveller Vol. 6, No. 5 (Feb/Mar 2014)