Photo courtesy: Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts
«with the fields» collective cultivates a myriad of activities and encounters, reflecting on sustaining practices across contexts. Over the past six months, they have shared stories and observations from the field; reflected on environmental and community realities in relation to a specific kind of neo-agro-colonialism facing their regions; shared rituals, books and recipes; discussed histories and politics of food; practiced decolonising pedagogies; and joined performance rehearsals. The collective gathers online twice a month and supports various projects they are engaged with on the ground. The focus on ongoing works in their contexts is core to the collective.
The practices of «with the fields» are based between the fields of Gangetic plains to the villages, water bodies and rainforests of northeast India; in the Amazonian forests near Manaus between the Adolpho Ducke Reserve and the Puraquequara lake in the Água Branca Incra settlement; across the Río Grande river (current Mexican / US border); in two Swiss alpine villages both located in the canton of Graubünden; around Inland Academy’s various sites of activities and research in Europe; and across the village of Balia in the northwestern corner of Bangladesh.
«with the fields» collective is Salma Jamal Moushum and Kamruzzaman Shadhin with Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts; Nora Hauswirth and Emerson Fernandes Da Silva with Arte e Escola Na Floresta; Paloma Ayala; Anga Art Collective; and Tara Lasrado.
In this article, several «with the fields» collective members share some words on how they relate, and practice, and confront, the bodies of water in their locality, through various activities and encounters in the field. Read their accounts below:
Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts: *with land, water and fishes!
We have been tracing the waterbodies in and around the village, through conversations with the communities, field recordings and tracking the old routes of the waterbodies – the small rivers, canals and ponds that were the main source of fishes and water for the communities which are almost non-existent now. The historical timeline of the disappearance of the natural waterbodies, and introduction of the ground water irrigation systems have both begun in the mid-eighties. As agriculture and daily activities depended more and more on the deep tube-wells, the rivers and other small waterbodies slowly disappeared to make way for more agricultural land. When a waterbody disappears, a lot of things disappear with it. Natural fishes are a rare find these days, gone are the ‘Baho’ days, when the communities used to fish collectively in the nearly dried up ponds during the beginning of winter. There were fishes to be found naturally in the water-logged paddy fields during the hotter months but becoming extremely rare these days. This year we had one of those rare moments.
Taking the opportunity we organized a one-dish foraging party, where everyone in the neighborhood brought a dish that has been prepared with ingredients foraged from the fields (including the fishes!). The party was a continuation of our annual open-air picnic ritual, also inspired by the exchanges and sharing about food within our «with the fields» collective, especially Nora and Emerson’s Forest Kitchen in Manaus. It was a moment full of joy and learning, and the idea of an experimental recipe book with all our favorite foraged items also formed on that day.
Paloma Ayala: *with the fishing field
Workshop led by Paloma Ayala (visual artist and educator) and Javier Dragustinovis (curator, museographer and educator). Realized in May 2022 at the primary school of the community called Primer Campo Pesquero* in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, at the northeast MX/US border.
*Primer Campo Pesquero translates as First Fishing Field.
To situate ourselves at the east-est area of the border of Mexico and the United States, is to speak about a region of fluidity and complexity. It is a political border that reflects the globalized colonial structures of our human world. And it is most importantly, a delta system where the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande river meets the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most important ecological areas in North America in terms of biodiversity.
Border coastal communities echo the very watery environment where they are placed. Small settlements exist on unstable grounds endangered by the political and economical exchanges of the MX/US border. They are composed by fluctuating demographies of human and more-than-human species. Often who you meet there is crossing migratory pathways.
The educational program organized by Paloma Ayala and Javier Dragustinovis together with teachers and mothers, focuses on coastal primary schools of the mentioned region. It performs as a platform where we come in contact with situated local knowledges and the economical or emotional ways in which their fluctuating presence takes place. From our side as cultural workers, we shared what we knew about the importance of this ecological space on a regional, national and international level.
We looked at maps, learned of weather conditions and fishing activities in border waters, learned recipes, made lists of fish, birds, insects, mammals, etc. that live with them in town, at the sea, the river, and lagoons. We created images together that were not only visible, but edible. We hand-made small cooking appliances fired by wood and made drawings with the children using beetroot as ink, and cornbread as surface. This small DIY kitchen was run by the children of different age groups throughout a whole week.
Our relation of solidarity and support with teachers and mothers in Primer Campo Pesquero continues. Through Javier, who works as curator and educator in a state museum, political and practical relations are being established between coastal and city representatives. For example, thanks to these new connections, we could gather donations of books for the school library, and school desks for the classrooms.
We will repeat the workshop in several other primary schools of the region.
Anga Art Collective: *on pedagogy and post-discipline
kNOw school began in 2020 and is running in various localities in Assam. kNOw school is a post-disciplinary platform by the Anga Art Collective, which takes the form of workshops and community outreach programs. Through this platform, we are invested in developing frameworks that rethink aesthetics, pedagogy, and ways of life; in the context of today’s multi-layered socio-economic, political, ecological, and academic-institutional crisis.
kNOw school is a tool to navigate the local, to generate post discipline approaches and attitude. We define post discipline through practice which is about developing a pedagogy that can enrich collectivity and works as a tool of encountering individualism and competition.
The collective and its members practice in the field and regularly encounter the conditions of water bodies as a place of care and conflict. Assam is a complex network of rivers, rich aqua life and fishing culture. Therefore the projects are layered with the stories of human and river experiences. For example the soil erosion of Rahmaria village to the contaminated water of Deepor beel.
We recently conducted a kNOw school workshop on the 14 August 2022 at Bhalla village, Rani reserve forest. There were around 70 participants who came from other nearby villages to join in the workshop. This area is very close to the neighboring state Meghalaya. This is the area where the plains of Rani reserve forest meet Meghalaya hills and is a conflicting zone for humans and elephants. There are few elephant corridors through which the elephant navigates in the hills of Meghalaya and plains of Rani Reserve forest and to other sites of Assam. In the first kNOw school session, we developed a few exercises with the participants. The aim of this exercise is to trace the landscape from the children’s perspective and how we can understand the situation from their experience. Moreover, our interest is to understand how childhood is shaped by the landscape and locality we live in.
Arte e Escola na Floresta: *among the waters
This text is extracted from a conversation that took place in mid-August with Zaira de Morais Malheiros. She is a farmer that often participates in events organised by Arte & Escola na Floresta – including coco oil production on 19-21 August which is part of the collective’s ongoing «Agricultura Participativa» workshops in Manaus. Transcribed and translated by Arte & Escola na Floresta.
There are many good things living among nature: The silence; the singing of the birds!
But it is not only good things that happen in our life, as in everyone’s life we have challenges. Many times we cry, many times we smile. Our land is always changing: In the month of December when the rains begin, and the rivers fill, the water enters through the channels and continues. Part of the land is flooded. In the month of May the rains decrease, and in June the rivers begin to lower.
When the rivers fill up, we can only get home by boat or canoe. In this time we have to carry the fruits and agricultural production with much suffering on our backs and in the canoe until we get to transportation.
The riverbanks need our protection. In our region near Autazes, we don’t plant the riverbanks, but leave the forest, because it is the trees that make the rains. We usually plant during the rainy season, so that the trees catch well. In other regions of the Amazon, in the „varzias“ on the banks of the Solimões River, the farmers plant on the riverbank when the river begins to dry out, and take advantage of the natural fertility of the land. This is how the flood and the drought have an effect on my life.