02.02.2021

Artistic Practices in Face of Fascism: Creative Strategies and Struggles for Territory

As part of the Green Art Lab Alliance, an international network of art organizations contributing to environmental sustainability, researcher and curator Yasmine Ostendorf talks with SAKA (Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development) based in the Philippines and Common Room Networks Foundation (Common Room) based in Indonesia about collaborative survival in dominant systems that are (still) informed by (neo)colonial, patriarchal and capitalist power structures.

Nature’s key strategies for flourishing are (bio)diversity and (eco)systems of mutually beneficial exchange. Based on this wisdom, The Green Art Lab Alliance (gala) was established in 2013, as an informal, international network of art organizations contributing to environmental sustainability. It was our attempt to grow a knowledge alliance, bringing together a diverse group of people and collaboratively building an infrastructure for exchange. The knowledge we wanted to articulate was often about understanding the environmental footprint of the cultural sector. But as the years went by, the climate changed and the world polarised more and more, we diversified further, both in composition and concerns. Conversations about carbon footprint were complemented with conversations about ancestrality, indigenous knowledge, land-rights, food security, and ecocide.

We started to operate more like a mycelium; an underground decentralized organism that gives out signals to the network about potential dangers, that provides knowledge on the environmental status of a place, and offers nutrition, tools, solidarity, information, and other forms of support to each other.

Over the years we have grown to 45 partners across Asia, Latin America, and Europe, connecting and contributing to the agency of art centers, museums, residencies, art collectives, activists, and grassroots initiatives that are strongly embedded in their local communities. We aim to amplify the voices of artists and art organizations responding to the various social and environmental issues that are the result of the dominant systems that are (still) informed by (neo)colonial, patriarchal, and capitalist power structures. We consider our histories, present, and future to be entangled and therefore believe in collaborative survival as the way forward. We find resilience in diversity; our partners are located not only across different continents, but also in both urban and rural areas, and they are young and old. We are all committed to our co-written Manifesto that came about with our Gala Asia meeting in 2015, hosted by partner Bamboo Curtain Studio in Taipei. There are countless incredible inspiring creative practices dedicated to environmental justice across the (huge) Asian continent and we would like to highlight the courageous and urgent work of two of our partners, SAKA in the Philippines and Common Room in Indonesia.

SAKA – Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development) is an anti-feudal alliance of art and cultural workers that support and advance the peasant agenda of genuine agrarian reform, rural development, and food security. By establishing study groups, integrating with peasant communities, and building a network of peasant advocates, the group learns the fundamentals of the peasant struggle for land justice and helps develop creative communication materials for its advancement as part of a broader mass movement for national democracy. SAKA was established in June 2017 to consolidate the active involvement of many arts and cultural workers, cultural organizations, and artist platforms in peasant campaigns and issues in the Philippines such as the campaigns against corporate landgrabs, poor labor conditions in haciendas and sugar farms, as well as killings and political persecution of organized peasant and indigenous communities asserting their right to control and own the land they till. To date, the alliance brings together approximately 60 to 70 art and cultural workers to support the call for genuine agrarian reform, food security, and social justice in the Philippines.

Yayasan Mitra Ruang Kolektif—also known as Common Room Networks Foundation (Common Room)—is an open platform for creativity and innovation. This institution was started as a project led by Bandung Center for New Media Arts. After being initiated as a project that bridges dialogue and interaction to encourage multidisciplinary collaboration and connects numerous individuals, Common Room has managed to outreach diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Since the initial period of development, Common Room has been committed to maintaining space for freedom of expression and civic empowerment that utilized art, culture, and ICT/media tools (Information and Communication Technologies). Starting from 2013 Common Room has been actively engaged in a collaborative effort with Kasepuhan Ciptagelar indigenous community to develop urban-rural collaboration platforms that nurture creativity, artistic experimentation, critical making, and social innovation both in local and international contexts.
Gala founder Yasmine Ostendorf had the honor to speak to the two partners about their current activities and challenges.

Gustaff Harriman
Iskandar of Yayasan Mitra Ruang Kolektif
(Common Room Networks Foundation)

YO: Could you tell a bit more about your recent projects and campaigns, for instance, the Rural ICT Camp?

Gustaff: We just finished organizing the Rural ICT Camp 2020 from 12-14 October 2020. This event is actually part of an ongoing community networks project that we develop together with the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) in 2019. During 2020 we had some synergies with the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO, formerly known as DFID) on Digital Access Program (DAP). This collaborative effort is actually an attempt to provide safe & secure digital access for underserved communities in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, and Indonesia. In Indonesia, since 2013, we work together with the Kasepuhan Ciptagelar indigenous community in West Java to develop community tech hubs to support rural innovation.

We started by focusing on the effort to develop local community-based Internet infrastructure in the region in 2015. So this joint effort is the continuation of what we have been working on in the past year. We are very happy as we are finally able to provide internet connectivity in 2018 after working together with Awinet. This local internet networks support the process of recognition and establishment of customary territories so that the traditions and culture of the Kasepuhan Ciptagelar community can be preserved in a sustainable way. Likewise, networks can be used to support the conservation and protection of forest areas, the monitoring of environmental conditions, and routine literacy activities in order to promote the production and dissemination of knowledge related to food self-sufficiency, climate change, and a sustainable development agenda.

The Rural ICT Camp 2020 is one of our approaches in consolidating ideas, knowledge, experience, and best practices from numerous individuals and communities in dealing with the challenge of the digital divide in their region. For this particular event, we work together with ICT Watch Indonesia, Indonesia ICT Volunteer (Relawan TIK), and the Indonesian ISP Association (APJII).

We are very happy the event is running smoothly & we can learn many new things from these encounters. Apart from the collective effort in providing internet connectivity for the underserved community in rural and remote places, somehow we are also aware that internet access is also vital to deal with certain issues that are in line with civic empowerment, climate change adaptation, and mitigation, COVID-19 pandemic response, indigenous land rights advocacy, etc.

YO: What are your main challenges in this?
G: I think our main challenge is to convince a lot of people, government institutions, and other agencies to work together and join the collective effort to eradicate digital divide issues by supporting community network initiatives. For example: working with the Kasepuhan Ciptagelar indigenous community requires us to learn & follow their local values in order to continue our collaboration without disturbing the local culture & tradition. Based on our experience, this approach is taking some time before we can implement some plan together with the local community. Since we also work with numerous individuals & organizations who have different backgrounds & understanding, sometimes it is not easy to reconcile various approaches & perspectives. But at the end of the day, you will manage to deal with all of these challenges as long as you focus on the collaborative process.

YO: Could you reflect on the interaction between rural and urban perspectives on what is a community and the implications of living/cooperating together?

G: In the past few years we have observed an increasing gap between urban and rural development in Indonesia; something that happens in many different places on a global level. The current direction somehow has shown us how urban and rural disparities may not only lead us to an injustice that accompanies over-urbanization and many other challenges due to climate crisis.

I think we need to re-imagine and renew connections between urban and rural communities. In the future, we need reciprocal interrelation between these contexts. A symbiotic understanding that is able to enhance a meaningful connection between people in an urban and rural context that is based on justice and solidarity.

This also includes shared values that look at the whole environmental landscape as part of the living ecosystem that is needed to be nurtured, conserved, and protected together. Art and culture, as well as science & technology, have an essential role in this. But most importantly, we need strong community engagement & local leadership to make this happen.

YO: How could The Green Art Lab Alliance and the international arts community be of any help to you?
G: I think through sharing information, knowledge, and resources.

Donna Miranda
SAKA – Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo
(Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development)

YO: Donna, could you tell a bit more about your recent projects/campaigns in relation to land-struggle?

Donna Miranda: For years the Philippine peasant sector has been observing October as peasant month. As part of the network of advocates and organizations supporting the peasant sector’s land and peace agenda, SAKA has launched a month-long program of solidarity events, discussion series, and protest mobilizations to amplify the demands of the farmers, fisherfolk, and rural poor for social aid, production support, and policy mechanisms to help assuage the impact of the Duterte regime’s[1] militarist approach to the COVID19 pandemic. In the past month, we supported the campaign to hold the Duterte regime accountable for perpetuating hunger, sabotaging the agriculture industry, facilitating land grabs and widespread conversion of lands, and normalizing the violation of civil and political rights of farmers. We continue to carry on the anti-fascist campaign to Oust Duterte and call on the international community to support the Filipino people’s call to stop the killings and urge the international human rights instrumentalities to conduct third-party impartial investigations against gross human rights violations in the Philippines.

 

We’ve also relaunched our Bungkalan Learning and Demonstration (LAND) Project to champion organic agroecology as a viable and sustainable strategy to ensure food security and uphold the right of the tillers to own and control the land they till. Bungkalan is the Filipino word for tilling and cultivating land; in the past decade, the Bungkalan or Land Cultivation and Occupation Movement has served as one of the foremost creative expressions of dissent and assertion of the tiller’s right to land. Our LAND Project brings the lessons of the Bungkalan movement closer to artists and cultural workers by inviting them to experience first-hand the fundamentals of organic agroecology, the challenges of a backward mode of agricultural production, and participating in land cultivation activities as a tactic to install the power of the peasants over land that is being taken away from them. In its second year, the LAND Project hopes to widen the participation of urban poor and displaced farmers in the community so that they themselves will decide to lead the planting activity and realize the viability of organic agroecology as a doable gesture to secure food. Artists throughout history have always been invested in gestures that aspire to challenge the status quo and ways by which we imagine the world. Therefore, the Bungkalan is a material expression of values that have always guided artists. By demonstrating the lessons of the Bungkalan movement, artists are able to participate in changing the ways we administer and imagine society.

YO: What are your main challenges in this?
DM: The main challenge we face at the moment is the restriction on mobility that is the consequence of the Duterte regime’s militarist lockdown due to the pandemic. Facing one of the longest lockdowns in the world, much like our food producers, SAKA’s farm activities have also been hampered because of checkpoints and ill-conceived quarantine measures. Our LAND project serves not only as a source of food but more importantly an opportunity to exercise our political rights to determine the strategies and approaches to fulfilling the basic need for food. But because of the quarantine, we have been unable to return to our food garden and demonstrate the viability of organic agroecology.

But more than that real challenge we now face as artists working and standing alongside the organized peasant movement is the state’s fascist policy against dissent. In June, the Duterte regime passed the Anti-Terror Law which effectively criminalizes dissent; the law gives blanket authority to the anti-terrorist council to tag or accuse anyone who is found to incite threat to public safety as a terrorist and be detained for as long as 24 days without bail and without being charged. It’s bad enough that the state has launched its army of trolls who conveniently tag anyone critical of the government’s anti-people policy as terrorists.
Apart from that, some of our members are already under surveillance by state security forces. Our social media accounts are being monitored and some of our fund-raising activities to provide emergency relief for urban and rural poor communities have been red-tagged as fronts to fund “terrorist activities”. Four days ago, a cartoonist from a mainstream news outfit in the Philippines issued slanderous statements against me for pictures taken of me at a major mobilization. A commenter on Steven Pabalinas’ post, claimed that “I have been passed around by the commanders of the New People’s Army and could no longer possibly be a virgin” just because I was seen kicking a burning Duterte effigy into a can.

The main challenge we face in the Philippines is the perpetuation of a misogynist-fascist regime that normalizes violence against women and the marginalized and impunity.

YO: Could you reflect on the interaction between rural and urban perspectives on what is a community and the implications of living & cooperating together?

DM: We need to strengthen the awareness of the interaction between rural and urban spaces. For one, food is produced in rural communities and when they are detached from the urban communities due to lockdowns or disaster events, the food security of urban centers, often economic and political capitals are put at risk. Governments and the public need to develop a better appreciation of the link between rural and urban communities and create better infrastructure to facilitate this.

We need to consider too that areas categorized as urban are barely urban. In the city where SAKA works, for instance, just a few steps from our studio is a hidden farmland. Farmers use backward methods and tools for agricultural production and make-do with DIY irrigation channeled from the wastewater of the urban community’s sewage.

YO: How could the Green Art Lab Alliance and the international arts community be of any help to you?

DM: The international community can provide valuable support to us by extending their solidarity for our anti-fascist campaign and exerting pressure on their own governments to support the campaign to launch an impartial, independent investigation of the gross human rights violations in our country. You can also organize various forums and discussion sessions to raise awareness for inhumane working and living conditions in the Philippines and gross violations of our human rights.

Make sure to support this important work by donating to SAKA through PayPal (sakapilipinas@protonmail.com) and to Common Room Networks by writing to email.commonroom@gmail.com

Notes

  1. President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines has been notoriously reported in media and international human rights networks for his fascist and militarist approach to the majority of policies in the Philippines. As a response to the announcement of COVID19 as public health emergency of international concern, Pres Duterte put the majority of the country under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world that are implemented by taskforce for COVID19 response that is led by military personnel or retired generals.

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