As I drafted the conclusion of my masters thesis, my head was spinning with the many voices of those I had interviewed. As a passionate textile-artist, I started stitching the environmental justice implications of a mine in Laver. My fieldwork took me to Laver, Norrbotten County, Sápmi/Sweden, where I spoke to local community members, indigenous representatives from the Sami community, local authorities, environmental activists and youth about what implications the opening of the largest open-pit mine in Sweden would bring.
The work illustrates how an open-pit mine would intoxicate large bodies of water (despite their protected status), clear cut forests and affect biodiversity. For the Sami community Semisjaur Njarg, a mine would cut off ancient migration routes used for reindeer herding, making winter grazing on traditional pastures impossible. This would seriously harm rights to indigenous culture, livelihoods and self-determination. At the same time, a mine would increase short-term economic growth, and provide only temporary jobs which would in turn decrease the possibility of exercising sustainable income-generating practises such as reindeer herding, nature based tourism and crafts.
Extractivism in the Global North impacts indigenous communities disproportionately. More than 90 % of Swedish mineral extraction is conducted in traditional indigenous communities in the Swedish part of Sápmi. The work illustrates how indigenous culture and livelihoods are threatened by the extraction in Laver and how this is delicately interlinked with the loss of local biodiversity (since reindeer feed on lichen from trees that will be clearcut). The Sami community of Semisjaur Njarg is predominantly affected by a copper mine, whilst the majority population will gain financially (short-term) from extractivism. It shows, like in so many cases around the world, that costs and benefits from extractivism are unequally shared.
I have used this embroidery when lecturing for Amnesty Sápmi and at a Folk High School where I currently teach a course in environmental justice theory to raise awareness about the implications of a mine in Laver.
Karin Edstedt is an activist, facilitator, and creator based in Malmö, Sweden. With an MSc in political ecology, Karin facilitates workshops about climate activism and environmental justice with a focus on Sápmi. She embroiders and knits to revolt against the consumerist, fast-fashion, apolitical society.
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.
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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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).