In Latin America, a new wave of feminist movements has been spreading, particularly in the last couple of years. Countries like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have seen huge marches and strikes by women against gender-based violence and abuse. Historically, these women’s groups and their predecessors have been setting the foundations for the groundwork of resistance against systemic and structural violence rooted deeply in these regions. And in some cases, they have been able to change and redefine politics by helping pass laws to promote equality and tackle violence and discrimination against women in their countries. As it usually happens, we often hear about these groups, organizations, and movements working in larger cities, but some of these efforts are also happening at a modest scale in smaller cities with a certain degree of success achieved by collective effort. One of these cases is happening in Veracruz, a Mexican port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Famous for its beautiful landscapes, warm welcoming atmosphere, and delicious food, Veracruz is also known for its high rate of femicides. The alarming numbers of violence against women in past years have fueled the indignation of many and inspired social action in women’s advocacy groups in the state.
From LA, I reached out to one of these groups dedicated to eradicating violence against women. Working at the intersection of art and activism, and with a focus on feminist issues, the collective Colmena Verde is a grass-roots organization that originated in 2018. Since then, with a particular focus on arts and education, they have staged a number of events, workshops, public lectures, and demonstrations, as well as dance and performances within the public space, to educate and advocate for women’s rights in their community. Fátima Alejo, Rosario Hernández, Claudia Martínez, Valeria Portillo, and Nancy Torres are some of the members of the collective and for this interview, they talked about the young history of their group and some of their advocacy and empowerment actions to promote equal rights for girls and women.
Claudia Pretelin: Can you tell us about the origin of the name Colmena Verde and its significance in relation to your group?
Colmena Verde Collective: Colmena Verde (Green Beehive) was designated by consensus among those who participated in the organization from the beginning. After attending the protest of 28S, a mobilization in Mexico to mark the Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion on September 28 in 2018, we did not want lose that enthusiasm, so we decided to establish a feminist collective. “Beehive” is in reference to the nature of bees as hard workers and of their importance for our planet and “Green” for honoring the movement “Marea Verde” (Green Wave) that had brought us together. This is how the name of our collective “Green Beehive” was established.
CP: Why did you think it was important to establish your social-political concerns and work as an art collective in Veracruz?
CVC: In the beginning, everything was very organic, we did some activities according to the moment and the proposals as they came up. We practically tried to do everything, we assumed different levels of commitments within our own capabilities including time, experience, knowledge, etc. We had some good but also bad experiences and so this made us rethink our work organization with a more structured and formal strategy. We decided to establish an internal set of rules, action lines, and an organizational chart manual with horizontal communication as much as we could. We worked collectively and decided to focus on two main lines of action: educational and cultural. This allowed us to become socially active using artistic and cultural activities as our backbone.
CP: How do your individual interests and your training in different fields inspire your work as a group?
CVC: Our collective brings together a very diverse group of women from different backgrounds. This gives us a wide range of voices for carrying out our initiatives. Having specific lines of action has helped us to organize all activities together and to be able to achieve great things. Each member contributes their opinion. This has helped us to reach agreements that are reflected in each activity. There are activities that have been already established and that we all follow by the rule, but there are also proposals that have to adjust depending on the moment that we live in or what we want to make visible. But in this case nothing is set in stone, we all talk about it and give our opinion. The important thing is that we all participate and interact with our audience.
CP: Who are some of the creative and artistic inspirations for Colmena Verde?
CVC: Every feminist movement. We are inspired by women in literature like Rosario Castellanos or Elena Garro to name a few. In the art scene, Monica Mayer, a pioneer in feminist performance in Mexico who created “El Tendedero (The Clothesline)”, has been a big influence. This project inspired us to do our own “Tendedero del 8M.” Many other women have influenced our work and artistic actions. We always try to work through art-related activities.
CP: Who are some of the local or national artists that you have collaborated with?
CVC: We have collaborated with photographers such as Luján Agusti from Argentina, Dolores Medel, Alejandra Zamudio, and Victoria Razo from Mexico. They helped us during our first international photography contest for “Women and Girls Rights”. We have worked with illustrators such as Michelle Belle, Gui de la Cal, Liz Merino, Gela Maravilla, Scarlett Rivera, and Edetsu, whose work has been recognized nationally and internationally. Locally we have coordinated activities with some artists and cultural promoters from Veracruz, in addition to working with other groups and associations dedicated to the production and sale of art including Latente, Proyecto Aves y Moras, Contraste Cultural AC, Litoral Galería and the Instituto Veracruzano de la Culture (IVEC).
CP: How would you characterize the art scene in Veracruz? In your opinion, what is the role of the government to promote and support the arts in your state?
CVC: The artistic scene in the city and in the state of Veracruz is very diverse. We are located in a place where we can access a wide range of art manifestations and artistic proposals. Regarding governmental institutions, it’s always surprising when there’s an effort to open spaces for emerging and established artists. In the last few years we have noticed a better job in planning, art management, and art promotion and this has impacted the work that we’re doing in collaboration with governmental institutions. There’s still a lot of work to do specifically related to funding and preservation of cultural heritage and cultural spaces, but this comes directly from the federal government and its lack of understanding that art and culture are a priority for social change. We hope this will be achieved one day.
CP: Can you tell us about the project “Women and Children Make History/Las Niñas y las Mujeres Hacemos historia”?
CVC: This project originated after an urban mapping where it became evident that downtown Veracruz, a historical place that recently turned 500 years old, is a dark and desolate place in the city where women are constantly in danger. We decided to take over some of the abandoned lots in downtown and reappropriate the walls with feminist messages, reclaiming our right to walk freely and safely. Also, we wanted to make visible the images of local women in history that are not very well known, even for locals. This is a way to merge our demands with an artistic and cultural proposal that does not break with the aesthetic of the urban space.
CP: In “Doce Meses, doce ilustradoras” you have featured the work of women illustrators, one per month. How do you select the artists that you will feature for this project?
CVC: We invite illustrators close to our group, women that we admire for their talent and feminist perspective. Also, we have hosted female illustrators from other cities and countries. Our main objective is to help local artists show their work because we believe that their work is worth seeing and should be recognized and will be appreciated by our social media followers. Since the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our virtual gallery made more sense. Without planning it became a very good option to promote art in an effective way according to the times we’re living in.
CP: Where do you hope to take your art and collective action in the future?
CVC: With our different initiatives, we hope to reach further away, not just locally. We’d like to get involved with other groups or artistic and cultural movements to make visible what we’ve done through our artistic and educational proposals. We hope to keep promoting the work of women from Veracruz in other places nationally and internationally, with a strong conviction that art should be for everyone.
CP: How can people get involved with and support Colmena Verde?
CVC: People can follow us on social media and share our content. Everyone can participate in some of our online initiatives. Join us and let’s build the beehive together! #HagamosColmena
CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?
CVC: The feminist handkerchief. Whether it is purple or green or a combination of both colors, the handkerchief has become a wearable reminder that we’re fighting for our rights and it has become a form of resistance. More than a symbol, it’s our instrument of collective memory. A memory of a specific time and place in the history of the feminist struggle. An instrument that we share with other women around the world that helps us set up sisterhood.
Colmena Verde Collective was founded in 2018 in Veracruz, Mexico to stand in solidarity with La Marea Verde (the Green Wave) of Argentina. They are a feminist group of women from diverse backgrounds dedicated to inciting collective action to prevent, eradicate, and condemn all forms of gender violence and to demand human rights for girls and women. Their activities aim to be cultural and educational and all of their actions, workshops, lectures, and events are made to resist, to persevere, and to take a stand against the inequalities that women endure locally and nationally.
If you are interested in supporting or learning more about Colmena Verde Collective, check out their website https://colectivacolmenaverde.blogspot.com/, or follow them on social media @colectivacolmenaverde on Instagram, @ccolmenaverde on Twitter and @ColectivaColmenaVerde on Facebook. In addition to this interview, from July 20 to July 24, 2020, don’t miss CCV’s takeover for the Instruments of Memory Instagram account!