ATC Revisited: Maria Thereza Alves

26 Oct, 2021

ATC Revisited: Maria Thereza Alves

Maria Thereza Alves spoke on Monday, October 04, 2021 at the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium at BCNM. Recap from ATC Liaison Jaclyn Tobia.

Community groups create sovereignty and mutual support, which threatens the extractive, infinite growth mindset of colonial powers. Maria Thereza Alves has been collaborating with the Valle de Xico Community Museum since 2009. She has been called on by the community to share their story. As of 2019, the contents of the community museum lie behind locked doors in a government building. Why would the municipality choose to illegally close this museum that holds indigenous artifacts and art works? History of pre-conquest culture is a threat to economic growth in the area. The story of the museum is both a current reality of colonial corruption, and contains viable dreams of a just and ecological future.

Alves was born in São Paulo, Brazil and grew up in relation to rural communities. She completed her studies in Art at Cooper Union in New York City. She is an artist that is not bound to traditional ways of making, often taking the role of a journalist and community activist in her political projects. Her recent talk at BCNM centered around sharing the story of the Museo Comunitario Del Valle De Xico/Valle de Xico Community Museum, and the community efforts to survive and uplift the cultural art forms and ways they find valuable in the face of violent colonial efforts to stop them. Alves has worked on numerous projects and continues to be in dialogue with the community, to bring attention to an ongoing injustice that has been happening in the area that was once Lake Chalco.

“Return of the Lake" was one of her earliest projects with the community. Exhibited at Documenta 13 in 2012, her original idea was to recreate chinampa, a feat of indigenous engineering that is a highly productive form of hydro-agriculture. Yet, once she became engaged with local politics, the project’s core shifted to telling the story of the desiccation of the Lake Chalco for agricultural land, that fed wealth to the pockets of Spanish colonizers. One Spaniard in particular, Inigo Noriega, profited greatly. To this day in Noriega’s hometown of Colombres, Spain, is a mansion turned museum that was built partly with funds from the desiccation of the lake. The museum claims that his agricultural enterprise, which destroyed 24 towns and the entirety of Lake Chalco, as one of his most outstanding achievements.

The widespread impacts of Noreiga’s decisions are still problematic today in terms of the area’s natural resources and urban development. Destruction of the region's forests to build the surrounding cities greatly impacts flooding. There are consistent water shortages. New high-end apartments, built on subsiding land, are sinking into the ground. Poorly built infrastructure and sewage systems, built on land that was once a lake, is prone to flooding and breakage that greatly impacts the poorest communities in the area. Meanwhile, efforts towards an ecologically sustainable community are stomped on by the municipality.

Community members started a museum with art works found on their homeland, artifacts found in soils and on the streets by construction workers and farmers. About 5,000 artifacts are in the museum’s collection. The community museum has been a resource and stronghold, hosting many workshops and meetings, and celebrating cultural heritage. The Valle de Xico Community Museum in the State of Mexico celebrates 25 years of resistance this year, but the contents of the museum are still locked away and hidden by the municipality. The museum is a threat to colonial ways of life and livelihood, because in indigenous culture there is no division of nature from culture.

What's next, and how can we support the community? Alves’s most recent collaboration, "Son Del Pueblo/ Of the People" (2020) takes a new media approach that might get the issue more widespread awareness. The project asks participants to make a ceramics work inspired by a photograph from the museum’s collection. Then, an image of the work with the maker is shared on instagram @son_del_pueblo, and on the artist’s website. The museum is in exile, and Son Del Pueblo allows the works in the museum to be seen and reflected upon. We will to continue to follow the issue. Continuation of events make the community visible in new contexts. We hope to see the return of The Valle de Xico Community Museum collection to its rightful caretakers.