Despite Extractivism

Between the Rivers

Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik

Here, in these safer cartographies, banks of clay hold all the footprints of our innocence. The river, strained by seasons, earth-dyed, struggles south. The wind, drawing heat from teas, sets a metronome of stillness.

A landscape can contain our memories, but we can’t return the blessing. A landscape is a secret known only to itself.

We glance, we play, we listen, we sing
               we lose our footing to the earth, but we never know it.

My babushka (grandmother) taught me to look down. Step carefully around each sapling, look for the sweetest berry under the tucked leaves. Be careful. An ogorod (garden) is a reversed cemetery – walk accordingly through the rows.

Looking across is harder. This forest, our horizon, is averse to observance. Brazen pines and ferns block sight lines, hogweeds close over our attempted path-conversations. The Ural’s forests are to be respected, though not feared. Fear is the opposite of gift. 

Russia is a shorthand for a question it doesn’t ask itself. Beyond breadth, beyond history, beyond fallout, what are we (what am I)? This empire-continent of mixtures, migrations, and expulsions; a vastness that overwhelms its own plurality; a composition of unscrolled lives and misunderstood lands.

This story falls from a few lives in one land, the unceded land of the Udmurt people. A land of dense forests and dense awe, that came to be seen as a land of glass, oil and industry.

In 1941, my grandmother, her sisters and her mother were evacuated from southern Belarus to the Russian Urals. As their village was swallowed by the Holocaust by Bullets, Udmurtia became sanctuary. In another rush of fortune, thousands of miles away, my grandfather, his sister and mother were evacuated from the Black Sea port of Odessa to a refugee camp outside the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. After the Unforgivable War, my grandparents returned to the wreckage of their birthplaces, to homes no longer that. 

Eventually, life would return my grandparents east. My grandmother was able to do her teacher training in the city that had given her family safety, and my grandfather was posted by the army to Udmurtia. Two of the few Jews in the entire province, they met at a dance and swiftly married. They brought life to my uncle, and a few years later, to the mother that would bring life to me. 

My memory of my grandparents – Dora and Shmil – is inseparable from the fragments of land they loved. A patch beside the forest, and a wedge of communal land nearer to a hilltop spring. Thanks to them, my childhood tastes of flowering dill, thorned cucumbers, and bitter redcurrants. 

Unrooted in the dawn, the eve of my grandparents’ lives was spent tending to roots. Learning from their neighbours, from the original custodians of that territory, from their own ancestors, they nourished berry shrubs, tomato vines, beetroot rows, beanstalks. 

With them, the garden and the dinner table were always classrooms; few days would go by, without my grandfather reminding me of the privilege of abundance, of what it meant for me to have never undergone hunger.
You will never even imagine what it was like.

The meagre war rations in the refugee camps they endured were always in sharp contrast to the verdant allotment they had nourished. This land, this adopted land, was kind to them. They would pickle and preserve the surplus, and eat it over the winter months, which they spent waiting for the snow to thaw, in order to return to their roots. I am still only reckoning with the intimacy they grew. I am still only recognising the questions they seeded.

In Russia, history feels inseparable from extractivism. These lands have seen constant clearances, furnaces, and impositions. They are haunted by the echo of lagerii (labour camps) and serfdom, for so much of the infrastructural knotwork impelled into this territory was laid by enslaved, incarcerated or exploited labour. These landscapes, unwritable, have been silenced to force way for a monocultural terrain and a single vision: development as the desecration and relentless extraction of nature. 

This vision – also known as extractivism – enforces a misunderstanding. Life, which is sacred, is actually cheap, and valuable only in its service to the economy. What matters and what being means are not ongoing questions, but simple equations. 

As a child, I felt these issues without knowing. Trans-Siberian passenger trains stop for a maximum of two minutes at the railway station of Glaz-kar, Udmurtia. You have two minutes to hug relatives farewell, show your documents, and load your bags onto the train. It takes far longer for the cargo trains – loaded with coal, oil, and timber from the East – to even pass through the city. With my brother, we would count and then lose count of the carriages in their procession towards distant ports. 

And yet these carriages rumble through thousands of villages and their
ogorods (small, family-owned and communally-owned allotments). This patchwork of dachas provides the country with around 40% of its food, and is bound up with an entire culture of foraging and caring for the forests that border allotments. The practices in dachas are paradoxical – they are relatively mainstream yet unacknowledged, they considered part of a folcloric national identity although they are radically antithetical in their ethos to the country’s highly-extractivist political economy.  

How do you unthread an infrastructure of mendacity? How do you turn the ingrained hierarchy – life under lucre – on its head?

The practice of challenging deep-seated extractivist mentalities, especially in the post-Soviet space, can often seem an impossible task. And yet how can it be, when the cracks of dominant models are filled with abundant dissent? What does the persistence of such a rich agro-ecological heritage of small-scale regenerative farming, particularly amongst older generations, have to teach us? 

Scattered beside the linear path laid out by the railroad are the
ogorods, the possibilities, the gardens of difference. It’s a matter of looking down. 

Solutions, revolutions, innovations – these synonyms of distance suggest the world we want is over there, over the horizon, alive only in what will come. But often, the very things we dream of are here. It’s a matter of turning toward them, or returning toward them. The places where we are possible are not found on maps but through compasses. These compasses we build. These compasses we retrieve. These compasses we become. 

About Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik

Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik is a researcher, campaigner, and artist, based in Barcelona. His work focuses on historical memory, climate justice, and the health of bodies and territories.


The Extracting Us exhibition and conversation series is co-curated by Siti Maimunah, Elona Hoover, Dian Ekowati, Alice Owen and Rebecca Elmhirst with critical insight and support from independent curator Celina Loh. Online exhibition designed and developed by Celina Loh with the Extracting Us Collective.

This project is made possible by support from 
ONCA Gallery, the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics at the University of Brighton, the Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity research network funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764908), and collaboration with the Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA) collaborative network and the ‘Sustainable’ Development and Atmospheres of Violence: Experiences of Environmental Defenders project funded by The British Academy.


WEGO-ITN (Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and cOmmuny International Training Network) is an EU-funded research network contributing to the political ecology, feminist studies, human geography, anthropology, and development studies’ understanding of extractivism, commoning, care, communities, livelihoods, embodied subjectivities and resistance to development. WEGO-ITN is made up of scholar-activists working on feminist political ecology from ten institutions in six European Union countries: Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and ten institutions from eight countries for training and secondments: Australia, India, Indonesia, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Uruguay and USA.

The Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics (SECP), based at the University of Brighton, undertakes interdisciplinary research to address global and planetary challenges such as climate change, human migration, social inequalities and resource access or depletion. SECP explores the environmental, spatial and cultural dimensions of ecological and social challenges in specific places, to offer new knowledge and practice for the creation of more sustainable and socially just societies.

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ONCA is a Brighton based arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity. ONCA promotes positive change by facilitating inclusive spaces for creative learning, artist support, story-sharing and community solidarity. ONCA Gallery works with artists, educators and organisations to co-deliver exhibitions, events and workshops that explore social and environmental issues.

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About Despite Extractivism

As with the Extracting Us exhibition, we invited the Despite Extractivism contributors to consider how their work can follow our guiding principles:

• The online exhibition brings together artistic and creative contributions that explore everyday community experiences of and responses to extractivism, and/or engage in ongoing conversations around extractivism, communities and care, in its various forms and registers.

• It includes three core aims:
– to challenge ‘north-south’ and ‘producer-consumer’ narratives on extractivism
– to listen to perspectives from those most affected, and develop actions of solidarity and resistance across countries and continents
– to challenge the viewer to make (sometimes unexpected) connections and develop solidarity (e.g, inviting the viewer to take specific actions or connect with the community

• The exhibition thinks about extractivism and care in terms of materials from (and of) the earth, and considers the experiences of humans and the rest of the natural world.

• The exhibition will include narratives of resistance where possible/relevant; and avoid relying on pathos that might develop an ‘us/them’ feeling

• The exhibition will work with quality materials while also challenging ‘professional’ or ‘distanced’ kinds of aesthetics

Despite Extractivism assembles expressions of care, creativity and community from diverse sites of extraction and geographical contexts. Extractivism is characterised by the violent accumulation of resources, which often devastates and disrupts affected communities and the natural world. Collectively, the works in this exhibition illuminate and explore ways of questioning, subverting and resisting the logics and impacts of extractivism.

Despite Extractivism
is part of the ongoing ‘Extracting Us’ collective journey exploring the  diverse, uneven but sometimes connected ways in which resource extraction also extracts from communities. It is an invitation to explore questions around extractivism and its logics, but also to explore the already-existing alternatives.  How do communities and creatives (struggle to) cultivate care for nature and for each other despite extractivism? Can sites of extraction be a fertile ground for alternatives?  Can artistic interventions help foster new sensibilities and solidarities with distanced extractive contexts?

Like weeds growing through the cracks in concrete, and in their flourishing slowly forcing the cracks to widen, the contributors to
Despite Extractivism scatter here their seeds of ways of thinking or being in extractive contexts. 

There are stories of artists who are involved with communities inhabiting landscapes threatened by destructive projects, imagining and practising ways of being which subvert and resist extractivism:  V’Cenza Cirefe’s
Counter-mapping in the Sperrins (resisting gold mining in Northern Ireland), Chesney’s Down The Line (resisting the HS2 railway in England)  and Federico Pardo’s forthcoming contribution (resisting gold mining in Cajamarca, Columbia).

There are illuminations of other tactics of resistance, from the creativity of the Kartini Kendeng women ecological defenders and their portrayals by Dewi Candraningrum (resisting cement mining in Java, Indonesia), to the counter-mapping initiative by the Pari Island community, JKPP and collectives to stop extractive tourism (Seribu Islands, Indonesia).

There are explorations of the uneven geographies of extractivism, with Karin Edstedt’s (Title) embroidery depicting the disproportionate environmental injustices of mining on indigenous communities (copper extraction conflict in Laver, Sápmi; coal mining in Kalimantan, Indonesia), and Sandro Simon’s audiovisual work Bidonmondes drawing attention to the omnipresence of extractivism through the everyday repurposing of imported palm oil canisters in the Sine-Saloum Delta, Senegal (originating from extractive palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia).

There are intimate accounts of uprooting due to extractive projects, accompanied by the persistent determination to build or rebuild lives in Between Rivers by Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik (Intergenerational care and multidimensional extractivism, Russian Urals), This is my Home by Maria Rosa Pessoa Piedade & Marilene Ribeiro (dispossession caused by the Belo Monte dam, Brazil) and In the Forest We Believe by Albertus Vembrianto (Covid-19) exacerbates migration from a coastal area affected by gold mining waste, Papua, Indonesia).

Finally, there are invitations to engage with practises and performances which inspire embodied reflection on the destruction and destabilising effects of extractivism in distanced contexts: Arabel Lebrusen’s Toxic Waves II (in response to deadly failure of a dam at the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil ) and Choules+Roisner’s
REGOLITHIC (in response to global extraction).

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