Soil is an inscribed body.
On Sovereignty and Agropoetics

Staying alive—for every species— requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination. Without collaborations, we all die.

Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Soil is an Inscribed Body. On Sovereignty and Agropoetics  is a project examining both the anti-colonial struggles of the past and the current land conflicts across the world to resist the invasiveness of neo-agro-colonialism and its extractivist logic. It germinates through a series of readings, interventions and workshops, and materialises in an exhibition (30.08.–06.10.2019) and a performance/discursive programme at  SAVVY Contemporary (13.09.–15.09.2019). The project seeks dispersed and yet networked moments of cross-pollination between artistic strategies and agroecological initiatives from molecular to geopolitical scales.

We reflect on state and capital devastation of natural landscapes as well as on forms of self-determination and autonomy performed by local communities as a rejection of the capitalist and colonial model of agriculture, engaging in a critical analysis of certain techno-scientific epistemologies and biopolitical practices. From the free women’s village of Jinwar in Rojava to the work of communities such as the Associação para o Desenvolvimento Integrado da Mulher (ADIM) in Guinea Bissau and the agroecological activism of the Beni Aïssi village in Morocco, amongst others, we are learning from these possibilities of enacting cooperative farming practices and alternative communal life, of cultivating and building living spaces of emancipation and liberation. And yet agriculture is also being weaponised as a warden for national identity: the relationships between blood and soil, between identity and land are being essentialised and made terrain for xenophobic argumentations and paranoid constructions of the other.

How can anti-colonial and environmental alliances nurture each other? How can we sustain interspecies entanglements and polyphonic multidirectional futures? How can we transform ruins, erosion and damaged landscapes, and embrace tactics of precarity to make living possible despite economic and ecological ruination?

We take cue from what Filipa César named “Amílcar Cabral’s agropoetics of liberation” to articulate ways in which political theory can be informed and subverted by agricultural practice. Cabral is most known as leader and Secretary-General of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands (PAIGC) and was assassinated by Portuguese agents in 1973. As Filipa César suggests, Cabral’s practice as an agronomist for the Portuguese academy should be read as a subversive strategy that germinated in his political formation and militancy, “to advance the liberation struggle from inside, using colonial resources to inform and strengthen the liberation movement”. Is it now possible to engage with some of his studies and writings on a soil epistemology to analyse and enlighten some of the most interesting current struggles against monoculture, land grabbing and neo-colonial extraction across the globe?

The soil is an inscribed body, a scarred terrain, a multitude of organisms that hold a history of erosion. It is a container and a meeting space for collectivities. This project is a tentative testing ground for artistic engagements with the soil as vessel, body and carrier for speculative, collaborative futures. We are exploring this through the practices of artists such as Bouba Touré, Raphaël Grisey, Julia Mensch, Filipa César and Inland, who are directly working with agroecological initiatives involved in struggles for land sovereignty in Mali, Argentina, Guinea Bissau and Spain. Elia Nurvista, Pedro Neves Marques, and Uriel Orlow are working on complex bodies of work and research around the extractive and violent patterns of neocolonialism and xenophobia created around agricultural practices and migrations of plants, while Barbara Marce and Ana Hupe point to indigenous technologies that challenge these practices.

While the inequalities of the Anthropocene are becoming more visible around us, this project learns from the poetics of dormancy and germination to think with edaphic agency about what it means to lie in waiting, touching and sensing the surrounding matter. We explore how we can make visible more-than-human collaborations, microbiopolitics and dependencies in the works of Zayaan Khan and Yen-Chao Lin, and sense the destructive but also regenerative and healing capacities of soil in the practices of Mia Harrison, Hervé Yamguen and Lerato Shadi. Binta Diaw and Leone Contini focus on the residues of memory that remain attached to materials when they travel. Dina Amro traces the sonic identity of the Palestinian struggle for water sovereignty in her recordings and reworkings of songs that call for rain, while Cedric Nunn’s “Unsettled” photographs point to the violence inscribed into the land in South Africa. Holding the selection of texts for this project in the SAVVY.doc library Luis Berríos-Negrón’s "Wardian Table" becomes both infrastructure and social body. The Archipel Stations Community Radio will develop a radio podcast and discussion group throughout the exhibition.