MACHIAS, Maine — A crowd of admirers marvelled Friday night at the newest poster in Beehive Design Collective’s collection: A massive poster, nine years in the making, depicting grass-roots opposition to neoliberal trade and infrastructure policies in Latin America.
Like all of Beehive Design Collective’s work, the poster, “Mesoamerica Resiste,” is a storytelling tool. The group bills its pieces as “portable murals,” and does speaking engagements around the world, using the posters as educational pieces.
The “Mesoamerica Resiste” poster, unveiled Dec. 7 at the Machias Grange Hall, which was bought and renovated by the collective in 2001, tells the story of grass-roots resistance to Project Mesoamerica, a slew of policies and infrastructure projects from Mexico to Colombia meant to enable free trade.
Work on the poster began in 2004, after an initial group of “bees” traveled from Mexico to Panama over four months, meeting with communities directly affected by Mesoamerica Resiste, which was then called Plan Puebla Panama. Since then, other groups of bees have conducted more interviews and participated in gathering of communities opposed to the plans.
It’s a common dynamic in the world of neoliberal policy: Banks, business interests and government groups form a plan to build infrastructure and relax tariff laws, with the goal of integrating and supporting international trade. Some local residents and activists criticize such plans as land grabs and ecological disaster disguised as development.
“These development projects are part of a bigger plan that is undermining both national economies and national sovereignty,” said Mandy Skinner, a member of the collective. “But also individual communities on the ground are fighting very specific road projects, dam projects, that are polluting water, taking land and taking away people’s self-determination to choose the kind of development they want and the kind of economies they want to participate in.”
Dozens of artists and activists worked on the poster, according to Michigan native Pat Perry, an illustrator who came to Machias four months ago to work on the piece. Perry was overjoyed at “Mesoamerica Resiste’s” unveiling, and said it was good to see the piece on display, out of the Beehive studio.
“Right now I can’t even process this,” he said. “We’ve been in that room so long that to see it being shown for the first time is surreal.”
Perry said the unveiling, which took place during Machias’ First Friday Art Walk, is just the beginning for the poster. The giant version on display there will be reproduced at a slightly smaller, but still large six-by-three feet, for distribution and educational tours.
The collective said thousands of posters will be printed, plus several large fabric banners, which will tour widely as part of the educational campaign.
The piece itself is printed on two sides and folded, to create a square that opens up to a larger image. Both images are made up of smaller scenes, each one detailing one piece of the larger Plan Mesoamerica story.
Wayne Peters, a Roque Bluffs resident who attended the First Friday event at the Grange Hall, said the new poster was “fantastic,” and said he was impressed by how much information was presented in the piece.
“The story it tells about the environment and the people who live there, you really have to study it,” he said. “I don’t think you could get it all in one take, even with a magnifying glass.”
The outside is a reimagining of an old Spanish conquistador’s map of southern Mexico and Central America. It shows the proposed network of new highways, power lines and other projects meant to facilitate trade. The collective said it’s meant to draw parallels between colonial history and modern-day capitalism.
When opened, the larger image shows scenes of wild animals and plants resisting the encroachment of Plan Mesoamerica and creating alternatives to industrial development plans. The animals — all drawn with stunning scientific accuracy — represent native people organizing against the plan. At the mural’s center is a group of animals in a “popular assembly,” sharing stories and strategies.
That scene is a metaphor for the eight or so large-scale forums held throughout Latin America, where activists gathered to oppose Plan Mesoamerica, Skinner said. She said those gatherings were what drove Beehive to want to do a poster on Plan Mesoamerica.
Perry said he hopes the audience, the people of Central American who were interviewed by the collective and inspired the poster, will approve of Beehive’s retelling of their story.
“The people of Central America are going to see this,” Perry said. “We hope we did them justice.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.