From the House of the Indigenous Peoples and Communities "SAMIR FLORES SOBERANES" (formerly known as the INPI) on January 26, 2022, the otomí community held a press conference.
Let’s talk about… art?
On January 24, 2022, the Mexican newspaper Reforma published the following headline:
The Indigenous Art Collection is at risk, after the government has not taken responsibility for its maintenance following the takeover of INPI.
The article states “the abandonment suffered by the Indigenous Art Collection of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) is due to the fact that those who have occupied its headquarters do not allow access to specialized personnel,” according to the head of the institution, Adelfo Regino Montes.
“For 20 years the Otomís have looked for access to decent housing. They’ve lived in overcrowded, collapsed buildings and camps without basic services on abandoned land in Mexico City.
This last site was abandoned after the 1985 earthquake, but the 2017 earthquake left it uninhabitable, and forced people to set up camp in the street.
They were evicted from there last year, living on the streets, with no assistance from city authorities in legalizing their living situation.”
Naturally, only the commodity suffers abandonment according to the system’s narrative, as expressed here:
“The official claims to have been present on three occasions when the Otomi Community of Mexico City, which took over the building in October 2020, prevented access to it to check the state of the valuable collection.”
As Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés y Sup Galeano remind us2, for the system, the destiny of the originary peoples is in museums, in specialized studies in the field of anthropology, in craft markets and in the image of a hand extended to beg.
It must be quite exasperating for the machine’s lawyers and theoreticians to encounter a kind of illiteracy that doesn’t understand the words “consumption,” “profit”, “progress,” “order,” “modernity”.
To bring these illiterate, backward people up to speed with civilization, the system employs prison bars, bullets, disappearances, and aid programs that sow division and conflict.
Sure, there are those who sell out and turn their own people over to the executioner, but there are communities that remain firm in their resistance because they know that they were born to live, and that the promises of “progress” obscure the worst kind of death: that of oblivion.
The past and the present
Eduardo Galeano mentioned in his book, Open Veins of Latin America, that veneration for the past always contained a reactionary tendency.
For Galeano, this conservative proclivity chooses to talk about the past “because it prefers dead people: a quiet world, a quiet time. The powerful who legitimize their privileges through heritage, cultivate nostalgia. History is studied as if we were visiting a museum; but this collection of mummies is a swindle. They lie to us about the past as they lie to us about the present: they mask the face of reality. They force the oppressed victims to absorb an alien, sterile memory fabricated by the oppressor, so that they will resign themselves to a life that isn't theirs as if it were the only one possible.”
The newspaper added:
“More than 20,000 pieces that make up the collection remain unattended in a warehouse, under lock and key, with the door frames sealed with tape, or behind a barricade of boxes, and at the mercy of humidity and temperature changes.
The stability of the microclimatic conditions that the pieces require for their conservation has been compromised by several power cuts during the year and three months the building has been occupied.
While the concern circulates the artwork unattended in a warehouse – at the mercy of humidity and temperature changes – prior to the seizure of the federal building, the Otomí collectives settled in the country's capital during the height of the CoVID-19 pandemic survived in makeshift camps, or lived in collapsed buildings without a solid roof, or running water3” as Javier Hernández and Carlos Acuña reported.
The press conference
From the building formerly known as the INPI, on January 26, 2022, the Otomí community held a press conference to address the aforementioned accusations.
Throughout the press conference, they asked the head of the INPI: “did you forget that you did not listen to us, that you did not care to listen for more than a year and six months, despite our multiple attempts at dialogue?"
According to Regino Montes, for whom “the seizure of the INPI has affected the efforts of the authorities seeking to benefit the communities,” any loss of the assets will be “the responsibility of those who have blocked access to them.”
And mainly, of the person “who leads them, who is Diego García4”. He will “have to assume the consequences for the damage he is causing to the Institute, and in particular to this very important heritage," remarked the head of the INPI.
Despite the bureaucrat’s claim, that he had "not seen the will to reach agreements”, but rather “a set of pretexts to continue taking over the assets of the institution", during the press conference the community proposed another chance to converse peacefully with the state apparatus’ representatives.
The initiative of the occupants is for academics, researchers and experts from different areas and institutions, "but above all the native peoples and indigenous communities," to participate in a set of dialogue tables to define what should be done with the art pieces.
Diego García and representatives of the Otomí community indicated that the collection is kept in a room of the expropriated building. The door “is sealed and under lock and key, so there is no way of knowing the state of the works or their number.”
They mentioned that the director of the INPI “possibly knows that the artistic collection is not complete, and intends to blame the occupying groups” for this5.
They stressed that the indigenous communities who took over the institute's headquarters a year and three months ago are not going to return the building – as they had already announced in August last year – after they renamed it "Samir Flores Soberanes," in homage to the land defender and journalist murdered in February 2019.
All that glitters is not gold – but if it does, it likely belongs to BANAMEX
Fomento Cultural Banamex (or Citibanamex since 2001) retains the artistic and cultural assets that ”constitute such a significant survey of art history that even Mexico’s president has commented on the situation” declared to El País6 an art historian who previously served as an advisor to Citibanamex’s cultural division.
“It is the most important private painting collection in the country” she added. The fate of around 2,000 Mexican artworks dating from the 17th century through today hang by an unknown thread after their owner, Citigroup, decided to sell off Citibanamex, the Mexican banking operation7.
López Obrador responded to the news that, “we’re going to look at the legal aspects, but we do not want to create problems for the sale or create obstacles, because we want to show that in Mexico there is a true rule of law, and there are guarantees and safety for investors.”
This courtesy, characteristic of López Obrador’s administration, is only extended to the class with acquisition power.
In regards to the claim to which artwork happens to be the chosen discursive proxy, there it is a definite social relation between humans, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things “in the same way the light from an object is perceived by us, not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself8.”
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. And yet, its analysis shows that it is, in reality, “a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties, it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour.9”
We change the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a chair out of it. Yet, the chair continues to be that common, every-day thing: wood. But, as soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it undergoes a different sort of change. Not by physically becoming something other than wood, but by its very being and purpose for being.
It is changed into something transcendent – in this case, the artistic body as a result of indigenous creative intellect once communally owned, now the prized possession of the sudden guardians of aesthetics, the Mexican federal government.
For the State representatives, guaranteeing the protection of this indigenous art collection is far more important than guaranteeing the present and future artistic contributions derived from the lived experience of their breathing creators, heirs to this legacy – that is, the indigenous communities in the margins.
There is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; as we know, accumulation comes hand and hand with the condemnation of part of the working class “enforced idleness by the overwork of the other part”.
It is not overpopulation, but this vampiric thirst to extract profit, on the one hand, what increases the demand for labor. With its other hand, it creates the circumstances for a supply of laborers to be made redundant from the workforce.
Inflicting pressure and marginalization on the unemployed compels those fortunate to find themselves “employed” hand-to-mouth to furnish more labour, fearing becoming part of the supply set free from the wage-labour confine: in other words, the immiserate, unqualified to join the clock-in and clock-out until you die dance.
If we go back to our chair crafted from the materials found in nature from the metaphor above, capital requires the production of infinite chairs while guarding them from a sector of the population, preventing them not only to ever sit on this furniture, but to get close to it or help produce it, despite ability and willpower. The drudgery of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of the reserve, “whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to overwork and to subjugation under the dictates of capital”.
Pauperism10 “is the hospital of the active labour-army and the dead weight of the industrial reserve army. Its production is included in that of the relative surplus population, its necessity in theirs; along with the surplus population, pauperism forms a condition of capitalist production.”
A tale as old as time: for the artwork, we must aim to secure the “stability of the microclimatic conditions that the pieces require for their conservation.”
For the relative surplus population? The streets.