Today, the Beehive Design Collective discussed how they use art as an organizing tool at an afternoon lecture at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale. The Collective and their art has circulated extensively within the anti-globalization movement and this is the Beehive’s third time visiting West Michigan.
Rather than talking about the Collective’s “graphics campaigns“–which the Collective uses as means of popular education to explain complex processes in society from biotechnology to free trade agreements–the Collective focused on how they have been able to use their art as an organizing tool. The Collective, which will also be appearing tomorrow night in Grand Rapids, explained briefly that its work is the product of extensive touring and research with people around North America and Latin America. Their art is produced as black-and-white pen and ink drawings and are designated as “anti-copyright” with the hope that activists and organizers will use them as a tool to educate their communities. They emphasized that over the past seven years of the Collective’s evolution their graphics have begun to emphasize story-telling via visual narratives with the goal of breaking down complex issues–trade, drug war, agricultural policy–and making them easily understandable for people that either speak a different language or are not literate.
The Collective told the audience that they got their start around seven years ago after a Collective member circulated a flyer at the 2000 World Bank/IMF protest searching for artists to contribute to a stone mosaic project. Since that time, the Collective has expanded and its major focus is now on “graphics campaigns.” The Collective has distributed over 60,000 posters via touring and donations to community groups, emphasizing the importance of person-to-person interaction and popular education presentations instead of selling them in stores. The Collective also recently acquired a new house in Maine that has allowed it to become a bit more structured and centralized as a Collective rather than the autonomous structure that characterized its early years.
The Collective’s work has grown in scope over its history from one of its earliest projects advertising a “BioDevestation” event in Boston to its current project on Plan Puebla Panama. A significant change has been a shift from text-heavy art to including minimal amounts of text in order to facilitate a cross-cultural dialog. The Collective’s Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA) campaign was its first step in this direction, with the goal being to explain the complexities in free trade agreements to audiences. The group used the campaign to promote the 2003 FTAA protests in Miami, as well as offering it to the activists that gathered in Miami to bring back to their communities as a means of explaining what was at stake with the FTAA.
The Collective’s next campaign was a graphic focusing on Plan Columbia. This was the first time the Collective sought to incorporate a distinct narrative framework. The graphic tells the story of Andean Region from the conquest over 500 years ago to the present, explaining that the same colonial mindset persists. It specifically tells the story of “Plan Colombia” and the United States drug war and how they threaten to displace traditional ways. The graphic is based on dialog between the Collective and people living in the Andean region and not only tells the devastating effects of Plan Colombia but also celebrates resistance and indigenous ways. Moreover, all of the plants and animals in the graphic–which the Collective uses in order to challenge people not to look for themselves in the art and to overcome concerns about stereotyping–are specific to the Andean bio-region.
While the Collective has been working on its Plan Puebla Panama graphic for four years, it has also done a number of other projects for the Latin American Solidarity Conference, on climate change and climate justice, and for the Maine Social Forum.
The Collective concluded by saying that the theme that connects all of its work is an intense love of using the small to explain the larger picture and the relationship between the microcosm and macrocosm. Their technique of using visual art to explain complex social and political issues is a welcome and much-needed shift from the text-heavy and often dense analysis that is so common on the left.
The Beehive Collective will be appearing tomorrow night (Thursday) at the Urban Institute for the Contemporary Arts (UICA) at 7:30pm. The UICA is located at 41 Sheldon SE in downtown Grand Rapids.