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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.
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.
Iskandar of Yayasan Mitra Ruang Kolektif
(Common Room Networks Foundation)
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.
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: 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and to Common Room Networks by writing to email@example.com
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.