Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Beehive Collective is an artist-activist group based in Maine that tours around the country, presenting at a variety of venues from schools to protests. Their aim is “to cross-pollinate the grassroots, by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools.”
7:08 pm: The Scheur Room is transformed by wall-size black and white fabric panels, dense with detail.
7:10: Sara Blazevic ‘ 15 introduces the Beehive Collective in front of a slide of, fittingly, a honeycomb with bees clustering in the corner.
7:11: “We aren’t experts, we’re storytellers,” says Molly of the Beehive Collective, inviting the audience to contribute to the presentation.
7:17: This graphic–Mesoamerica Resiste–took the collective nine years to complete.
7:19: Collective member Kyle delves into the details of the first graphic, in the form of a map of the region. The detail on the screen shows a compass rose-style Starbucks insignia and Chiquita Banana Company playing roulette, which is in turn encircled by a railroad and a row of tanks. The next detail is of three ships symbolizing the triangle trade.
7:28: The Inter-American Development Bank dominates the top right corner of the graphic, symbolized by an industrialized conquistador figure, NAFTA emblazoned on its chest. “Free trade largely has to do with moving goods around the country without restrictions,” says Molly. “Goods become less constricted, while people become more constrained.” She also references the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest free trade agreement in history, involving 40% of the global economy, which is currently under consideration. “A lot of it is happening in secrecy, behind closed doors,” says Molly.
7:29: In the bottom left corner is the International Monetary Fund (IMF), represented by an empty doctor’s coat. It is extracting utilities and placing leeches. In the upper right hand corner is a faceless judge symbolizing the World Trade Organization. Corporations may sue governments for actions like making hydraulic fracturing illegal. “The companies that have brought these suits have won every single time,” says Kyle. In another detail, the World Bank plays a chess game against itself, illustrating a market-based solution to environmental crisis–“making a market out of pollution itself,” says Kyle.
7:37: “Most of the pollution is coming from the Global North, but most of the people who are feeling the effects are in the Global South,” says Kyle.
7:41: In the next graphic, five elected officials, all wearing masks, sit at a table with a cake in the shape of Mesoamerica graced by a ‘500’ birthday candle. Behind each of them is a pet industry: tourism, biotechnology, etc. “When crisis strikes, profits and privatization goes up,” says Molly, giving the example of post-Katrina New Orleans, when water facilities in schools were suddenly privatized. They have since become charter schools, which means they receive public funding.
7:42: Above this colonial dinner party is a massive wave. Molly references the recent typhoon in the Philippines, an example, she says, of the Global South bearing the brunt of environmental crisis.
7:44: On the left of the colonial map graphic is a group of bees that lives off of collectively owned land. The graphic shows one bee bringing grain to market, only to find that she cannot compete with the prices of grain marked by an American flag. She puts her honeycomb up for sale, moves to the city, and is shown blowing North, trying to cross the border into the USA. We revisit her honeycomb, which has been turned over to export crops: palm oil, bananas, coffee. Meanwhile, a Quetzal is weaving a picture of birds, but her fabric is being frayed into a stream of sweaters and Tommy Hilfiger shirts that are destined for export to a US mall.
7:53: “When we were doing our research, we heard tales over and over of communities being wiped out–massacred–this happens not just once but all over,” says Molly, and these assaults are linked to agriculture. “A lot of companies that were making weapons of war now make pesticides.” In the next detail, ‘Cornquistadors’ impose their genetically modified Monsanto corn on the map.
8:01: Kyle points to the larger banner, about eight by fifteen feet–the illustration of resistance to balance that of exploitation. In the scene–which includes endangered animals that have become extinct over the nine years it took to complete the banner–there are also military and paramilitary members bent on disruption. “In the past year, in Colombia, 22 union organizers have been killed,” says Molly.
8:09: The next graphic shows farmers of Atenco, Mexico, represented, per their request, as corn, confronting an airport that was being built on their land. Protesters were killed and people raped by police forces. Ultimately, construction of the airport was stopped.
8:12: An image of the Golden Toad, the first species that scientists say went extinct due to climate change. “They’re an example of what’s to come, and they’re not the only example–we’re in the sixth great extinction crisis right now,” says Molly. The Melapona bee, the only bee that pollinates vanilla plants, is also endangered. A number of scenes showing bees making paper, gathering to plan a community based on solidarity.
8:32: In the center of the banner, under the ‘Mesoamerica Resiste’ held by ants perched on the root of a tree, is a party for the 10-year anniversary of the Zapatistas. They reference the importance of creating historical memory. The final image is a butterfly working a radio station powered by a water wheel, which is also a reference to Radio Venceremos. “People spoke to us a bunch about the power of the word,” says Kyle. “People had lost their land, their family, but no matter what, they still had their voice.”
8:49: A student asks how to ensure that the art doesn’t glorify pain, and how Collective members, who are mostly white, negotiate their privilege when going into communities to tell their stories. “The issue of glorifying violence is super tricky,” says Kyle, who acknowledges that it’s messy to translate something into a picture and then back into words. “We’re hoping to hear back from folks about what works and what doesn’t work,” says Kyle. “A lot of people in this group have privileges that are vast–we’re volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to do this if we had kids or parents we’re trying to take care of. We’re trying to leverage this privilege as best we can.”