Corn as “Bio-Artifact.”  Corn through which to understand the relationship between humans and a biological seed, through the dynamics of history.  Corn as a lens to view the tension between Food as a Commons and Food as Commodity.  Corn as a brilliant idea for an art exhibition.  Beam me to Oaxaca, Scotty!


Lately, I’ve been pondering corn.  Lila Downs really got me wondering about the ancient origins of corn in Mexico, and the way that specific, regional and cultural varieties would be meaningful to how people cooked and tasted their food– in times past and in the present day.  In Nebraska, Ponca Indians have begun regrowing their own varieties of corn. stolen by history, to affirm cultural roots and to protest the potential threat to water from the Keystone Pipeline.

Today I read about what looks to be a brilliantly imagined and curated art exhibition  at MACO, the Oaxaca Contemporary Art Museum, called Bioartefactos. Desgranar lentamente un maíz (Bioartefacts. Slowly threshing corn)

[It] presents 9 installations which highlight the ‘artefact’ nature of corn. The plant is a biological artefact because it is the result of a human domestication that took place thousands of years ago and it has in turn shaped the whole country over as many years…”

Corn is a special plant for Mexico. It has many layers for us. Corn is related to cultural identity, land, food, religion, mythology, rites, family, economy, animals, etc. By stressing the ways in which corn is produced, grown and used in different contexts, we want to meditate on the different aspects that constitute also different world views.

….From the very much-mediated relationship to food that we have in the cities where everything comes from markets and supermarkets, to the self-subsistent system of corn growth and consumption in rural Oaxaca, we can think about the different ways in which we build our world. Instead of thinking of opposites, I believe that people from the cities have a lot to learn from the countryside, not only in respect to food consumption, but also from the different ways of life. In the same sense, the city has a lot to teach to the countryside.

We cannot face the problem of corn, food, GMO’s, biotechnology, etc. only thinking about economical, biological or scientific issues, the cultural aspect is very important. When we talk about different ways of producing corn, from rural to industrialized, we are not talking only about machines or monocultures, but really about cultural diversity.

Take the time to look at the variety of art pieces in this exhibition– enjoy it as art, as pedagogy, and as an example of the way corn is so central to discourse on food and politics.  I like the way the exhibit gets visitors to engage with scientific aspects of corn as well as cultural ones.

There’s definitely a way that in the fight again genetic pollution of ancient varieties, lots of unity seems to be emerging among indigenous groups in the Americas.  It’s exciting that in the face of drifting GMO genes and the super-power of agricultural homogenization, there’s a response, from cultural and food-sovereignty and even “foodie” perspectives, to work hard to retain and re-heterogenize the incredible historical/ biological gift that is corn.  This is what it’s all about!

Meanwhile, here’s a repost of a good article on Mexico, Monsanto and the Precautionary Principle.


And one more thing — a special plea.  I’m really interested in conceptual art in general and art about food in particular.  Visiting this show in London was fascinating for me.  I try to write about artists whose work interests me when I encounter them.  If you hear about exhibitions on food politics, or artists interested in these kind of themes, could you please let me know?  I will be very grateful!  Thank you.