Despite Extractivism

In Between Frontier Spaces

Mai Jebing

On the extracted frontiers in Central Kalimantan Indonesia, massive changes in landscape happen hand in hand with changes in social relations. It all started some thirty years ago, with the building of roads and then large trucks came and went carrying logs, including logs from the adat or customary trees, such as Ulin or ironwood and Doho, the giant tree where the bees-nested and made honey. Now, the trucks are also carrying coal. The river has changed too, then it was only for the local transportation and transporting wood, however, when the trees are cut, there is much less wood that need to be transported by the river, now large coal barges have replaced wood barges.

Extractivism has changed the relationship between humans and the more-than-human. The river that used to be the people’s front yard has become the backyard; the houses have moved away from the river and closer to the road. The river water can no longer be drunk since it is dirty and doesn’t taste as it used to.

At the frontier of extractivism, everything is running as the extractivist logic wants it, following the generic view of extractivism: the physical and massive landscape changed. However, we often overlook how extractivism shapes the community’s everyday activities and vice versa, which are only seen on a special occasion or even in particular social relations, which shows: despite extractivism.

The following two series of photos are an invitation to imagine and explore the spaces of everyday activities on the extractivism landscape: the space of care between humans, and the more-than-human, their meanings and values that are contrary to extractivism, such as making popaks, beverage, fermentation, communal harvesting of fruit, preparing cakes for customary rituals, introducing new-born babies to the river. Those are irreplaceable things, which make extractivism strange, and disturbing.

A Juxtapose

When the forest, no longer with trees,
Abandoned wreckage machine
and the logging company left

While the orchard is evergreen,
Stocking for harvest every season,
and the rubber dripping sap every day


Ketika pohon hutan habis,
menyisakan rongsokan mesin,
dan perusahaan kayu pergi, 

Sementara kebun buah selalu hijau,
menyediakan panen tiap musim,
dan karet menetes getah tiap hari


when the forest becomes a stand of wood,
floating on the river,
and taken to the sawmills

while the Tengkawang tree is the foundation of the lanting
floating on the river,
connecting the water and land, and their inhabitants

ketika hutan menjadi tegakan kayu,
mengapung di atas sungai,
digelandang ke pabrik-pabrik sawmil

sementara batang tengkawang jadi lantai,
mengapung di atas sungai,
dihubungkannya perairan dan
daratan, beserta penghuninya

When tanah air is extracted, 
transported by iron barges,
taken somewhere unknown

While the durian falls or is picked,
transported by wooden boats
brought to the house, neighbors, local market

ketika tanah-air dibongkar,
diangkut tongkang-tongkang besi
dibawa entah ke belahan dunia mana

sementara durian jatuh, atau dipetik,
diangkut perahu-perahu kayu
dibawa desa dan pasar lokal..

When digging and transporting Tanah-air,
need iron boxes 
that can run fast

while cooking for adopted child rituals,
need field rice, coconut milk, brown sugar, and yeast
that can soften and ferment.

Ketika membongkar dan mengangkut tanah-air,
membutuhkan kotak-kotak besi,
yang bisa berjalan cepat

Sementara memasak untuk ritual anak angkat,
membutuhkan beras ladang, santan, gula merah dan ragi
yang bisa melunakkan, memfermentasi

A space of care

Seperti melakukan perjalan, benih padi akan berlayar melintasi sungai, bermain bersama bunga dirang merah kuning. Orang-orang menunggu dia pulang, pun burung tecirot –  si dokter ladang.  Sang padi Pulang,  bergembira, disambut orang sekampung dengan inta dibungkus daun pisang. Balian mendoa, memberi makan batu, kayu dan tanah.

Like a traveling, rice seeds sails across the Lalang River, playing with red and yellow Dirang flowers. The people are waiting for her to come home, even the tecirot bird – the rice-field doctor. The rice seeds returned home, happy, greeted by people in the village with inta wrapped in banana leaves. Balian prays, feeding the stone, wood and earth.


Kamu bayi paling beruntung di dunia. Sebelum melihat langit, orang tuamu membuat upacara, memperkenalkanmu kepada sungai,  kepada Jata, penguasa dunia bawah. Sampai di rumah, kamu menerima 101 pelukan sayang, dan tiap orang  di kampung  diminta mengusulkan nama buatmu di atas kertas. Kertas itu lantas diundi. Keluarlah nama:  Agustina Aguilera. Orang tuamu suka, sebab kau lahir di bulan Agustus.

You are the luckiest baby in the world. Before seeing the sky, your have a a ceremony to introduce you to the river, to Jata, the underworld deity. When you get home, you receive 101 loving hugs, and everyone in the village is asked to suggest a name for you on the paper. The paper was then drawn. One name come out: Agustina Aguilera. Your parents like it, because you were born in August.

Upacara adat apapun di kampung membutuhkan minuman popak.
Popak membutuhkan fermentasi.
Fermentasi membutuhkan padi, ketan, bambu, gula, kayu bakar, ilalang, dan ragi.
Semua bahan-bahan itu membutuhkan ladang, kebun karet, kebun buah, dan air dari sungai.
Di kampung, perempuan yang membuat popak

Any customary ritual in the village requires a popak beverage.
Making Popaks needs a fermentation.
Fermentation needs white rice, sticky rice, spices, sugar, firewood, weeds, and yeast.
All ingredients need the Swidden, rubber plantations, fruit orchards, forest and water from rivers.
In the village, Popak is made by women


Support community to reject mining in the Wawonii island Indonesia:

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About Mai Jebing

Siti Maimunah was born in Jember, East Java. She took Soil-Agriculture as her core study in Jember University and joined the environment group that brought attention to natural resources issues. Her early career began in the year 2000 with JATAM (Mining Advocacy Network) where she has developed her knowledged about women and mining issues. Later, she became a researcher of Sajogyo Institute, focusing on Agrarian issues. She contributed to writing both articles and opinion in the national newspapers as well as online websites. To this end, she has written the following: “Indigenous People and State of Mining” (2010); Mollo, Development and Climate Change (2015); Weaving and The Guardian of Identity (2018). She completed her masters degree on politics from University of Indonesia (2016).


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 logo

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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