Serpent River Book
Serpent River Book, 2017
Serpent River Book is a 72 page accordion fold artist-book, that combines archival images, maps, poems, lyrics, satellite photos, with the artist’s own images and texts on river bio-cultural diversity, in a long and meandering collage. The fluctuating publication can frame many narratives. As a book it can be opened, pleated and read in many directions, and has a performatic potential to it, functioning as a score, or as a workshop tool. Serpent River Book gathers visual and written materials compiled by the artist while working in Colombian, Brazilian, and Mexican communities affected by the industrialization and privatization of river systems.
The book is part of the ongoing body of work ‘Be Dammed’, that investigates the effects of
HUNGER AS A TEACHER
I began to investigate the El Quimbo hydroelectric power project on the Magdalena River after reading the following headline in March 2012: “The River Refuses to Shift its Course”. El Quimbo is a dam built on the Yuma River —the indigenous name for the Magdalena River, Colombia’s main waterway— by the Endesa- Emgesa multinational conglomerate. The environmental license for the project was granted in 2008 and the dam began to generate electricity in 2015. El Quimbo is the second of the seventeen hydropower plants laid down in the “Master Plan for Exploiting the Magdalena River,” which aims to transform the river into a fluvial highway focused on the export of coal, petroleum and other minerals, as well as the generation of energy. It proposes all this without taking into account that it is a vital transport waterway for more than 70% of Colombia’s population.
That investigative article explained that, after its course was shifted, the Yuma River had grown: it had returned to its natural bed, eroded the deviation tunnel and halted the construction work. In May 2012 I visited the area affected by the dam for the first time. In the town of La Jagua I spoke to Mrs. Zoila Ninco, who explained to me that the Yuma had grown in that way because it knew that it would halt the building of the dam. In all the environmental conflicts I have a close knowledge of, the rivers, mountains, animals, jungles and minerals are creatures which take an active role in the efforts of territorial resistance. With Zoila I went to the Cuacua River —Suaza River being
In the European summer of 2013, I was on an artist’s residency in Berlin, where I had the
In April 2014, I visited the Sonoran desert in Mexico, as I had been invited by the Yaqui tribe to attend their Easter celebrations. At that time the Yaqui people were blocking Federal Highway 15 in Mexico, demanding that the Independencia aqueduct be dismantled. This aqueduct carries water from the Yaqui River to the Sonora River
In Los Angeles, months later, I attended a talk by Olivia Chumacero, an elder from the
In April 2016, I visited the Quilombos (Afro- Brazilian communities) of Ivaporunduva and
In Sapatú I interviewed doña Esperanza, a Quilombo grandmother who told me that her ancestors escaped from slave traders in the 16th century, fleeing upstream along the Ribeira to form the communities which exist today. For the Quilombos, the Ribeira River is their freedom path and that is why they continue to organize and resist such projects, keeping themselves free and unharmed by dam. In doing so, they honor their ancestors and work for the well-being of their daughters and granddaughters. In the Ribeira Valley, they live alongside communities of indigenous and caiçara (mixed blood) people,
July 21, 2016 was my thirty-eighth birthday, but instead of celebrating, I felt depressed because it was the day they found the body of Nilce de Souza Magalhães, best known as ‘Nicinha’, tied down with stones in the Jirau hydropower dam’s lake, Porto Velho. Nicinha, a fisherwoman and leader of the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (Movement of People Affected by Dams), was displaced by the Jirau hydropower project on the Madeira River, in the state of Rondonia, Brazil, and was well-known in the region for denouncing human and environmental rights violations by the consortium building the
On June 22, 2016, I traveled to Altamira, in the state of Pará, Brazil, a city affected by the Belo Monte hydropower dam on the Xingu River. I was able to exchange ideas with the people who were displaced by the dam, built by the Norte Energia company, who are now resisting these abuses. Raymunda, a fisherwoman, left an especially strong mark on my memory because despite what she had suffered, she was happy and optimistic. She clarified that she had not been displaced but rather expelled from the Xingu by the Belo Monte project. When I asked her who had taught her to fish, she said: “Hunger taught me to fish.”
During the São Paulo research days, of the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, I spoke at a panel in the company of Ailton Krenak, an environmentalist and one of the leaders of the Brazilian indigenous movement. When it was over, we went to eat with others who had participated in the event and I told Ailton of my wish to do fieldwork in the basin of the Doce River. The Krenaki indigenous people are the only survivors of the original inhabitants of the banks of the Doce River, in the state of Minas Gerais. On November 5, 2015, the Fundão dam burst. This dam was built to contain the mining wastes of Samarco, a joint venture
The collapse of the Fundão dam profoundly disturbed the Krenaki people, since their lives are closely linked with the life of that river. Ailton told me that the Krenakis call the Doce River ‘Watu’, which means ‘grandfather’ in their language. For centuries, the Krenaki people have been the victims of a slow, systematic, drop-bydrop violence on the part of the mining industry in that region, one which goes back centuries. This violence is spread through the contaminated soils, streams and pipelines which contain particles of iron, manganese, sulfur and other heavy metals that they are literally forced to drink and breathe and which gradually penetrate their bodies.
The contamination of the Watu is the most visible sign of the environmental racism caused by ‘development’ and it is threatening the traditional peoples of Brazil and the whole of the Americas. Ailton told me that the elders of the Krenaki people say that Watu is not dead, contrary to what scientists and experts believe. The elders say that Watu is more intelligent than the toxic slime and when it felt it coming, it hid under the ground. Thus, Watu is underneath the riverbed, like a dormant volcano, like a latent lightning ray, and
When I had my intrauterine device removed in 2013, I felt that any internal or external dam, regardless of its size, can be removed or dismantled. I had it inserted in 2005 to prevent having any more children. During eight years I had an internal dam inside of me which interfered with my periods; an object designed and produced by a patriarchal system which insists on possessing and abusing women’s bodies, just as it does with