In 2013, Italian Sociologist Alessandro Zagato and Chilean Art Historian Natalia Arcos formed Grupo Investigacion en Arte y Politica (GIAP) – an independent militant research group who explore the interplay of aesthetics and politics in social and revolutionary movements, aiming to instigate radical social change.
On Thu 12 March, Natalia and Alessandro, accompanied by their baby daughter, were joined by a group of participants at PRIMARY to share their most recent experience of working closely with a Zapatista community in Chiapas, South Mexico. The Zapatista movement emerged as a declaration of war on the Mexican State, from whom the indigenous Mayan population had suffered repression and violence for generations. This declaration of war sparked the 1994 uprising, culminating in the Mexican state overpowering the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and forcing them to retreat.
Armed with a coffee and a piece of cake, we gathered round to listen to Alessandro and Natalia. They discussed the role of aesthetics and poetics within the EZLN, and how they could translate these ideas into the instigation of positive social change in our own community. The two speakers began by introducing us to what has perhaps been the most significant event in the movement in recent years: the 2012 Zapatista March of Silence, which took place in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
As we watched scenes of the march unfold in footage, it was clear to see the electrifying atmosphere and power of the message conveyed, despite the demonstration being performed in complete silence. This march marked a new phase for the movement; of a more peaceful approach, in contrast to the events that took place in the violent 1994 uprising.
The march embodied key ideologies central to the movement – equality, autonomy and collectivity. The wearing of a balaclava now synonymous with the movement signified the eradication of individualism. In this movement however, everybody is a leader and is entitled to a voice. The quest for equality was also reflected in the decision to eradicate Subcomandante Marcos , the closest figure to a leader in the movement. Marcos had previously been utilized to appeal to a middle class audience. The movement took the drastic step of removing him in May 2014, believing that he contradicted the fundamental role of individualism in Zapatista philosophy.
Moving onto the artistic production associated with the movement, Natalia discussed how artists utilized painting, film and music to disseminate Zapatista ideas to generate solidarity and support around Mexico and beyond. The ECPM’68, a collective including painter Beatriz Aurora, one of the artists in Nottingham Contemporary’s last exhibition Rights of Nature, have played a major role in the promotion of Zapatista views within an urban context. Their works were also in an installation created by GIAP that featured in Rights of Nature.
Attention then turned to art produced by the Zapatista community itself. We looked at Camilo, an indigenous Zapatista who creates paintings and murals for and within his own community. All of the artworks portrayed the aesthetics and politics of the movement, combining elements borrowed from indigenous Mayan beliefs and left wing politics. In one of Camilo’s paintings, a member of the ELZN stands defiant with arms raised in the foreground, dressed in black with his identity concealed by a balaclava. An ancient Mayan temple looms in the background, reminding the viewer that the legacy of Mexico’s indigenous people and Mayan heritage is still very much alive.
After a brief interval, we congregated to address the overriding question of the workshop: what can we learn from the aesthetics and politics of movements such as these? During the discussion, I was struck by the diversity of people that attended the workshop. Many were artists themselves, interested in transforming their own practice into something more socially and politically relevant. Others came from profession from spiritual therapy to mathematics, all wanting to see what they could learn from the movement.
We must be grateful for people like Alessandro and Natalia, who are truly dedicated to bringing movements such as these to the forefront, prompting us to reassess our own society and how we can change it for the better.
To find out more about GIAP visit there website https://elblogdegiap.wordpress.com/