Combining Art and Activism: Pollinating Ríos Vivos

The etched black-and-white artwork paints a gruesome and cruel history.

Lavish cruise ships demonstrate the luxurious privileges of tourists. Dams and pipelines pierce the landscape, juxtaposed with a Columbus-era map. Faceless institutions rule without consequences, and toxic chemicals flood the fields. In this view, the earth is not alive; it is just there to be exploited.


Top portion of Beehive's Collectives' "Plan MesoAmerica"
Top portion of Beehive's Collectives'
"Plan MesoAmérica"

The artwork is called Plan MesoAmérica, and it’s traveling the United States as part of the Pollinating Ríos Vivos tour, led by a Colombian artist and activist who goes by the pseudonym Entre Aguas ("Between Waters").

Pollinating Ríos Vivos has been touring the U.S. since October, spreading the word about the movement against extractive industries, with an emphasis on dams in Colombia. It uses art as a medium to communicate and educate while combating injustices in various communities and their lands. The tour incorporates the work of three organizations: Beehive Collective, Movimientos Ríos Vivos, and Polinizaciones.


During the event, Entre Aguas discussed both Plan MesoAmérica and its counterpart: MesoAmérica Resiste. This black-and-white poster, larger than its sibling, is the polar opposite of the “Plan”; it paints an optimistic history in which root structures spiral out into branches and include scenes of lived history in MesoAmérica. Illustrations of 400 different plant and animal species are intertwined with cultural and spiritual symbols as well as images of resistance. Included is a birthing scene framed by medicinal plants and a gathering where youth learn from elders around a fire. It’s a vision of a world inspired by diversity, resilience and culture.

To create the works, the Beehive Collective collaborated on a different – nearly geologic – timeframe. A team of 22 artists spent a total of 9 ½ years completing the posters. This immense care shows in the works’ dense, detailed rendering.

At the end of the event, I had an opportunity to ask Entre Aguas a couple of questions, while the room was lightly buzzing with the sweet sound of future artistic collaborations.

VE: What has been your most notable personal success, your biggest accomplishment, while on the tour of Pollinating Ríos Vivos?

EA: The tour as a whole was a personal success. Meeting, connecting, and experiencing with so many peoples and communities in the frontline struggles for defending their lands, rivers and territories as a whole. To be able to start building and tying relations. Also to be able to visit the Elwha River, a river liberated from a 100+ year old dam, where salmon can finally return to spawn… It gives hope that one day in Huila we can see the pataló, dorada, and bocachico return to spawn as well. 

VE: What has been the most successful artistic collaboration and why?

EA: The Canadian portion of the tour was organized by and done in the company of two other Beehive members, one of which is the hip-hop emcee by the name of Testament, of the group Test their Logik. Without a doubt teaming up with Testament opened up spaces for both story telling and musical performances that normally are not accessible when touring with only one type of workshop/performance.

As a movement artist myself, I believe it is important to bring artwork into different spaces and to have the opportunity to collaborate with other artists, simultaneously with important causes. This sort of artistic collaboration is very empowering, as it proves that there are many ways to communicate a message and fight for rights. Plan MesoAmérica and MesoAmérica Resiste are intricate pieces of art and it is beautiful to see that every single inch of the posters has its own unique story, woven into a larger truth.

Jonathan Luna explaining a detailed scened of "MesoAmerica Resiste"
Entre Aguas explaining a detailed scened of "MesoAmérica Resiste"

The Pollinating Ríos Vivos tour is not only raising awareness of how art can be used to communicate about history and activism, it is bringing to light how the resource extraction industry has immense impacts on communities. The tour talks about Colombia’s struggle with hydroelectric dam projects, such as El Quimbo dam, which in fact has recently been ordered to stop operations. The tour has enabled many communities to form alliances and unite in solidarity, raising consciousness on the many issues we face today.

***The Beehive Collective is an art collective that aims to educate and support environmental movements by providing artwork for public use. The collective focuses on creating anti-copyright artwork and graphics that illustrate a global story with regional representation, in which illustrations become a method of communication regardless of language or literacy.

***Polinizaciones is a grassroots network of cultural workers and communicators that use Beehive Collective graphics and other art-based strategies to promote a culture of resistance, struggle, and liberation in land defense, and for the self-determination of indigenous, afro-descent, peasant, and marginalized urban communities impacted by resource extraction industries.

***Movimiento Ríos Vivos, or the Living River Movement, is the social movement of dam-impacted communities that struggle for the defense of their territories and rivers in Colombia.

Sunday, January 3, 2016