The Beehive Collective

BY Hank Hoffman

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Images of human beings don’t appear in the world conjured in the posters of the Beehive Design Collective. But, filtered through an intricate narrative of metaphor and allegory, the posters depict a world recognizably and disturbingly our own. It is the world of corporate globalization—contemporary colonialism and imperialism—and people’s resistance to it, all explained in pictures.

The Collective is a political graphics workshop based in an old Grange hall (a legacy of the anti-corporate Populist organizing of the late 19th century) in eastern Maine. Since 2000, tens of thousands of their posters have been distributed on “pollination tours” through college campuses, high schools and community centers and at large-scale convergences such as the April 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada. This fall’s tour will bring the collective to the Miami protests of the Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings from November 17-21 and the School of the Americas protest in Georgia from November 21-23.

The Beehive artists prefer not to give their names, or to describe themselves as artists. “Instead of calling ourselves ‘artists,’ we call ourselves ‘cultural workers,’” a female bee explained in a pollination tour stopover at Yale University in October. They are “bees,” they say, and their mission is to “cross-pollinate the grassroots.” They are “anti-copyright” and encourage people to download their graphics from www.beehivecollective.org and put it to a political purpose.

Since 2001, the Bees have been working on a trilogy of posters on corporate globalization. Parts one and two dealt with the proposed FTAA trade agreement and Plan Colombia, the catchall name for U.S. military and corporate intervention in that South American country. The third poster will focus on Plan Puebla-Panama, a mega-infrastructure development project for southern Mexico and Central America designed to facilitate corporate exploitation of the region.

In creating the Plan Colombia poster, Collective members spent four months in Colombia and neighboring Ecuador talking to social justice and campesino groups. What they learned was then woven into a visually challenging but coherent narrative web. The Bees wanted to show not only what they oppose—war, corporate control and ecocide—but also what they support: strong communities, labor solidarity, grassroots organizing and sustainable agriculture.

Rather than rely on graphic portrayal of the indigenous people and the occupying powers, the posters employ plants and animals that are region-specific. The Bees depict an AWAK radar surveillance plane as a flying scorpion and liken the coca-fumigating cropdusters to locusts. Bloodsucking mosquitos with corporate logos on their sides extract resources, visiting ecological destruction on the countryside. Popular resistance to this assault is the job of leaf cutter ants. The leaf cutters were chosen, according to the Bee who addressed a group of students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, “because they are amazing agriculturalists who farm trees” without destroying them. They cut away at the edges of Colombia’s “nightmare” to reveal the thriving society and natural wealth beneath.

Following the FTAA and SOA convergences, Collective members will continue to Mexico and Central America, accumulating input for their Plan Puebla- Panama poster and spending New Year’s Eve in Chiapas to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising. Then, in March, it’s time to swarm to the Americas Social Forum in Quito, Ecuador.

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Hank Hoffman is a writer based in Connecticut.

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