EDELO (Where the United Nations Used to Be)
In the Fall of 2009, over one hundred displaced indigenous community members occupied the offices of the United Nations, located in San Cristóbal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. The offices were taken over in the hope of gaining international attention from humanitarian organizations. After a few months of the occupation, the United Nations simply decided to find another building and moved.
A few months later, Mia Eva Rollow and Caleb Duarte, repurposed the building. It is a part of an investigation into how Art, in all its disciplines and contradictions, can take the supposed role of such institutional bodies to create understanding, empathy, and to serve as a tool for imagining alternatives to a harmful and violent system that we do not have to accept.
Inspired by the 1994 indigenous Zapatista uprising, where word and poetry are used to inspire a generation to imagine ‘other’ possible worlds, EDELO has retained the name of the UN office. From 2009 to 2014, EDELO, Where The United Nations Used to Be, was an artist run project in Chiapas, Mexico that created sculptural performances and community events through relational aesthetics, social practice, and social sculpture. EDELO centered its practice as an intercultural artist residency of diverse practices and an ever-changing experimental art laboratory and safe house. The work at its core focused on the lessons and use of art by the EZLN, the Zapatista autonomous indigenous movement in Chiapas, Mexico that has used art as a main tool to demand immediate and drastic social and economic change as a response to 500 years of invisibility, oppression, and neglect. The works consisted of artist residencies in Zapatista territory as well as at our art center and gallery. The emerging aesthetic was one of urgency in the face of the continuing clash between colonial and Mayan Mexican indigenous worldviews.
“The space was open to all possibilities and to different groups. We had traditional formal gallery openings as well as experimental performance pieces where every room of the building was taken over by performing artists. We covered the gallery with dirt, held university conferences, movie screenings, children’s events, and hip-hop concerts as well as fundraisers for Zapatista communities.”62 Duarte and Rollow were interested in providing space for the local community, as Rollow later commented: “We were taking over the space of the United Nations, who walked away from the important issues that people were facing. We wanted as artists to walk towards these issues.” In a statement about EDELO, Duarte noted: “We kept the name to challenge institutions and the role that they play.” Rigo 23, one of the artists in residence, commented how the name EDELO “announces, and immediately occupies, the void left by that grandiose 20th century global organization with headquarters in New York City and Geneva.”
At EDELO, Duarte, Rollow, and other artists collaborated with members of displaced Indigenous communities, differently abled people, street kids, members of autonomous communities, Zapatistas, and other groups. As Rollow noted, “EDELO was a laboratory of collaboration,” in which “everyone created,” including “artists of all types, coletos (the original San Cristo´bal settlers), healers, religious folks, sex workers, anarchists, working people, academics and students, homeless people, jugglers, campesinos, people in crisis, astronauts, youth, the elderly, and the list goes on.” As such, Duarte contends that EDELO “challenged the traditional artist residency and art spaces by placing residents [artists] alongside rural autonomous communities that have been using performance, theater, poetry, and a rich visual culture to demand fundamental social, political, and economic change.”
The artists continued to develop work involving communities in Chiapas, including collaborative work with migrants/refugees from Central America. In 2013, Duarte and Rollow, along with artists in Chiapas including ceramics professor Pablo Milan, who was affiliated with the University of Arts and Sciences in Tuxtla Gutie´rrez, created the concept of Arte Urgente. They characterize it as “a practice of immediate investigation, developed in response to the cultural, social, personal, and political that occur within its geographical context.” As the artists have described, Arte Urgente was intended to be created with local communities and “encourages us to listen to what communities are expressing and turning that into a visible living experience.” Drawing on the initiatives of the Zapatistas, the artists were also interested in people using their bodies as part of public protest and resistance. As their collaborator Zoque artist Sau´l Kak stated, “You have to remember that for much time the government that controlled the Indigenous towns didn’t want to see the people. There came a time when the town was tired of this and this is where the Zapatistas come in. They use their bodies, which they say in English is ‘performance,’ which is to make a symbol of resistance.” Duarte noted in an interview that the formal choice to use their bodies in this way relates to art by Zapatistas and stands in contrast to what he refers to as institutional aesthetics. At that time the artists established EDELO Migrante to extend their work beyond Chiapas, enabling collaboration with more communities in movement.
-Excerpt from The Work of Arte Urgente - Performative Acts of Political and Artistic Imagination by Rebecca M Schreiber
EDELO 2014 - Present
Once an experimental intercultural art space and residency of diverse practices inhabiting the building of the former UN, Edelo is now nomadic collectives creating works with diverse communities in the Americas.
Our work is of urgency. It is theater, sculpture, social practice, dance, painting organizing festivals in the spirit of true collaboration and shared authorship with the communities and art spaces that we work with. URGENT ART is a specific working methodology that collaborates with artist from different disciplines in the development of art. It encourages us to listen to what communities are expressing and turning that into a visible living experience. This augments the possibilities of converting experienced moments of tragedy into situations of healing.
EDELO SELECT EVENTS
Marc: Mia, could you say something about EDELO, which I think is mostly you and Caleb? You created an amazing collaboration. Could you say some- thing about how your group started and what your thoughts are on the power of art, the power of collaboration that you created.
MIA: It’s somewhat difficult for me to speak about EDELO as I suppose I’m more in the world of the wordless. Words are potent but the wordless is sometimes a wider vision, as it is not defined. I always saw EDELO as a wordless place, one
that didn’t have a statement, one that stayed a mystery, so that the public became confused, obstructed with questions, with impossibilities that spur possibilities.
EDELO was inclusive—everyone created at EDELO: artists of all types, coletos (the original San Cristóbal settlers), healers, religious folks, sex workers, anarchists, working people, academics and students, homeless people, jugglers, campesinos, people in crisis, astronauts, youth, the elderly, and the list goes on. It was a place where all these people were provoked to find their power in the space of the non-functional, non-visible, and non-personal. We wanted to unite people, to un-divide. We believed that a space for the creative process and collaboration was transformative and a necessary activity for healing in this world of the ‘other.’ We wished to provide a space for the local community, particularly as we were taking over the space of the United Nations, who walked away from the important issues the people were facing. We wanted as artists to walk towards these issues. At times our main sculpture was our body and spirit you could say. Art became no different than health and freedom of the mind. EDELO was a living structure.
-Excerpt from Zapantera Negra Book