Más Arte Más Acción (MaMa) began in 2008 as a collaboration of shared interests between partners Jonathan Colin and Fernando Arias. The foundation’s base, on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, contextualizes artists and other professionals to explore wide-ranging social, political, and ecosystemic issues that have arisen due to industrial growth, neoliberalism, and ecocide in bioverse landscapes. By working through collaborative processes and issues rooted in the community, MaMa has contributed to a discourse that considers the challenges facing local people, broader humanity and socially engaged practices.
MaMa is committed to environmental and social processes that do not focus on the contemporary art discourse. Having been chosen to participate as a lumbung member for documenta fifteen, MaMa has been given an opportunity to present its processes within a contemporary art framework. They have developed activities with their neighbors and friends in nearby communities, deciding among everyone what lines of action to focus on.
For this interview, we met with nearly the whole team of MaMa and engaged in far-ranging topics such as their multidisciplinary projects in the region of Nuquí and alliances that have been constructed over the years in this territory.
MaMa will pause its program in 2023 to reflect on its future role and structure.
Más Arte Más Acción is a lumbung member for documenta fifteen.
Veronica Mari: As we have learnt, Más Arte Más Acción initiated as a collaboration focused on local and community issues and ways to address them. To begin with, we would like to have a deeper understanding of your own context. Could you please tell us more about what has motivated you to start the collective?
Jonathan Colin: Firstly, we prefer to be considered an organization rather than a collective. MaMa began in 2008 as a collaboration of shared interests between myself and my partner Fernando Arias (Image 5). We lived together in Scotland and then in London until 2006. I was running a community-cultural center in Brixton, where I was seeking ways in which young people could come together to make exhibitions with contemporary artists. Fernando's work deals with political, social, and environmental issues, and has always been very strong and deep-rooted in Colombia, its territory, its complexities, and social concerns. My interests have always been riveted to art that doesn't take place in galleries. We were doing that at a time when it wasn't really a kind of normal practice and there weren't curatorial study courses in places like the Royal College in London where most courses were focused in arts administration instead. I was running a public art agency in Scotland when I met Fernando back in 1995. So that was my background for the years before we came to Colombia in 2006. Our initial spark actually came after we'd been for some time in the Pacific coast region of Armenia located in the coffee growing area, where in fact a lot of our programs have taken place for the last twelve years. The first time we went to Chocó, though, actually goes back to 1997 when we wrote for an ecotourism magazine. Early in 2009, when we returned from Armenia to our base in Chocó on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, we were invited by the Ministry of Culture to curate El Salón Regional, the regional salon of art, which is really the place where contemporary art in Colombia rallies around curatorial concepts. So, for us, it was the first time we'd done anything like it, and we had to come up with a name for the two of us because we weren't just going to be Jonathan and Fernando. We came up with Más Arte Más Acción because we were interested in art that engaged and confronted people in ways that they weren't necessarily used to. We were interested in activism as well and generating a kind of change through artistic practice on different levels. From the start, MaMa has tried to share resources and remove hierarchies, so well-known visiting international artists and young local artists were allocated equal budgets. By working through collaborative processes and issues rooted in the community, MaMa contributed to a discourse that reached beyond the art world and voices from the region were heard at events around the world.
It evolved into something very fluid when the Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands invited us to apply to become network partners. And we were up against the Museo de Antioquia in Medellín, which is a really massive institution with hundreds of people working for it. We knew we weren't going to become a network partner of the Prince Claus Fund, but it really sparked that idea that we could do something more solid, and it laid out the kind of pathway towards this creating a foundation, because ultimately we wanted to find financial resources to channel into projects that we felt were valid and socially engaged projects around us.
That's when we started our relationship with the Prince Claus Fund in more depth and then with Arts Collaboratory. This is a particular moment where we're obviously working towards documenta fifteen in a way that we’re fully engaged in producing. However, we've been discussing for the last two to three years, stopping, stepping back, and rethinking the form of the organization itself, how it's going to be managed in the future, if it's going to have a future, or if it was a project that was fit for purpose for its time, we don't know the answers until we have time out in 2023 to deeply reflect on what we've done and what we can do in the future.
VM: You mentioned that, interestingly enough, you don't identify yourself as a collective—how do you really identify MaMa? Is it a network?
JC: From the beginning, everything has revolved around the people and the relationships that we have with each other. Even though we’ve had our tensions and conflicts, the nature of the organization has shifted through many chapters depending on who's been here. When things were starting to scale up and we couldn't handle all the administration, Ana Garzón came in as an administrator, working three or four days a week just taking care of the finances. She gradually took over more and more of the management of the project until she ended up being an incredible director (Image 11). Therefore, the shape of the organization has changed all the time, and we are at a particular moment where it is quite intense. We've had an encounter at the end of November-beginning of December in Nuquí, as our Lumbung Chocó, which raised a lot of questions about how we relate to one another, and we don't have the answers yet (Image 10 and 8). So, I think we'd all be crazy to say that we know what the answers are, and we know the shape that it will take in the future, but I know that all I know is that we are these people. We are these people with our own individual interests and also our collective interests around certain topics. For example, Carmenza was just talking about the relationship between humans/the non-human and the afro-feminist group that she's still very much driving, and all of those things are areas that we want to explore and will explore this year in documenta fifteen.
Olena legorova: Could you also please tell us how the cultural differences within the group or the artists helped in shaping what the project looks like right now, because as we see, you all have different backgrounds, and this might be very enriching to your practices.
Carmenza Rojas Potes: The richness of our ecosystem has been the difference. When you work from a homogeneous perspective, you lose the most important aspect in life and surely nature gives you that. Chocó is the most biodiverse region in the world, so I believe that our practices and collaborations in Más Arte Más Acción stem from this; (Image 7) as it happens, it’s been possible to read and be completely sensitive to our environment. Speaking of globalization, I understand it in regard to color, which means reflecting on Blackness as a word and its historical meaning, not only in terms of skin color. It is essential to first position yourself within your context, for example, considering myself before anything a Colombian, a diverse and multiethnic cultural practitioner. Regarding the collective, I believe people have bestowed certain value over the word collective but haven’t fully seen it as a way of producing something. You can probably say “We are a collective,'' but you only speak within a group of five people because it's your collective. If you consider the whole extension of the notion of biodiversity, only five people stay quite short on building this.
Alejandra Rojas: I wanted to build a little bit on that. I think Arts Collaboratory has been a big influence in the process of MaMa. For example, we’ve been working on rethinking our financial paradigm in relation to North-South relationships of funding. I would like to remark that practices based in the Afro community both in rural and urban spaces, as Carmenza has pointed out, should not be solely related in terms of Afro and skin. Instead, it should be studied taking in account their cosmovision and complexities on understanding how to live and produce from this territory; for example, Quibdó, which has probably been excluded from the hegemonic sphere, is an important site for intellectual production and feminist practices. Ana Garzón was quite focused in reinforcing alternative and community practices thought out from a feminist perspective and this was very enriching for sustaining the relationships built from our residency programs (Image 2). Some of the feedback we’ve received from our past projects expressed gratitude for the attention we provided, and I think it derives from care and femininity. Like today, we are mostly women working in the project, and from my position this has been substantial in terms of influence concerning our country’s political situations which are always speaking to us. We cannot dismiss violence or the difficulties that confront our location. Positively, support and activism in cases, like El Paro Nacional or El Paro de Buenaventura, have created important communitarian acts of agency and governance on account of the political tension and disparities.
People who are close to the organization have put a lot of influence in it. I would like to point out some of the important influences and also to emphasize the idea of not having a strategic plan for the organization, trying to go step by step and trying to analyze the input before taking the next one, instead. It's very organic planning, in a way. Of course, we have some more precise financial strategy, but even in it we adhere to the idea of lifeline—cyclical learning and adjusting the strategy according to what was learnt.
JC: I also like the idea that you don't need to say you're a collective to be necessarily working in a collective sense. And I think, although having set up this organization, which was in a way forced on us as a structure by the North funding policy, our organizational structure is still horizontal. Sometimes, things are difficult to talk about in an organization when you're in it, but I've never felt that I've been taking or forcing decisions on others as one of the co-founders. And I hope that people have always felt that we take decisions collectively, including ones about programming, etc. At the same time, there will always be that elephant in the room, that sense of worker-owner relationship, when you've got that structure, where, as a legal entity, you are the people who have the ultimate right to make decisions. But I'm confident that with the people we're with and accompanying us, it will get to that point where we can really make decisions together.
Rosela del Bosque: I have a question following up on what Alejandra was talking about, because I come from a very familiar context being from Mexico. I believe that all community-based projects that are strongly grounded definitely take into consideration location and the political influence that you are under. How exactly do you shape your project and your activities, and do you incorporate the political and also the social and economic factors that affect Colombia, and how do you address them through the project?
AR: I would like to talk about it with examples, and I would invite Carmenza, because I think that Atrato Collaborations (Image 1), which has also been a project of a lot of tension, is also crossed by a reality of the river and the reality of Quibdó. Just to give an example, I would like to talk about the port of Triuga and how it was threatening the territory, and generally speaking of the Gulf of Triuga. That is the place where Fernando and Jonathan started the organization and where the residency program was established. Now, we also started to get very involved with the organizational and cultural processes of Nuquí (Image 14). At that moment, I was not there from the start. So, these stories were told by Ana, but at that time there was a need to respond from artistic practice or cultural practice to the start of construction of the mega-port that was going to be built in Nuquí.
We’ve collaborated a lot with El Colectivo de Comunicaciones en Puja that emerged as a communications initiative and collective working with the local community council, which is a government unit managing the collective land of Black communities after 1991 and then Ley 70, which is far from being fully implemented. Most of the territory of Nuquí is a collective land of Indigenous or Black people now, so this council is a very important political unit for distributing collective property. MaMa had also already gotten very close to a film collective in Buenaventura that is located among the oldest mega-ports of the Pacific region, and it has definitely neoliberalized itself due to the gentrification impacting the locals inhabiting in this territory. It is a place with a lot of social conflict, traces of violence, narco-traffic, and lack of public policies that regulate extraction and use of this land, partly because most of these resources are administered and sent to Colombia’s urban areas. For five years already, and for three years in a row, we have been conducting a film exchange between these two collectives and other collectives to reflect upon the ideas of port and future, meanwhile, the situation with it gets more threatening.
We have created an alliance between different groups or from other organizations and NGOs that work in that territory, in order to take legal actions and develop political strategies. We, being the only artistic project within that process, try to emphasize the questions that bother the communities residing in the area. They have different opinions about the port itself, but they demand clarity about the future of this place and on how it will affect them, as well as being concerned about violations of their rights. There’s this idea that rights only come with “progress,” and this is the national hegemonic political discourse in power and the common explanation from government agencies to the people who are disposed of in their municipality.
With the project Postales del Futuro (Image 3) , we created six short films of exchange between Nuquí and Buenaventura, also learning how to do film in the process and involving filmmakers mostly from the Center to help. Nevertheless, there has been a lack of reference to Black filmmakers in this discussion, and this is why El Colectivo de Buenaventura has been quite active in speaking out and circulating Black filmmakers’ work with the project Lente Pacífico. Additionally, El Colectivo de Comunicaciones en Puja is working on the idea of Chocó Futurism and collaborating closely with the filmmakers in Quibdó, rather than the mestizo/white people from the Center (Bogotá or Cali).
OI: Your mission of generating change through artistic practices seems to be very successful on a local, community level. Considering that, could you tell us what is your relation to the global, and how do you position yourself within the global art discourse?
JC: I would say that we've never intentionally tried to place ourselves in the global art discourse. However, we are part of Arts Collaboratory, which puts us in that frame, but in a very non-mainstream sense, because we are one of twenty-five organizations from mainly Global South countries that are focused on art that shares similar struggles. It's been a platform for coming together to exchange. So, we met once a year, before the COVID crisis, outside of an urban context with the common purpose of communicating and getting to know each other's ecosystems, and sharing our projects, struggles, and building collaborations.
That's something which started really from the very first Arts Collaboratory event or meeting that took place in Colombia in 2012 or 2011. This format prevailed after that in different countries, and it introduced us to the international arts and cultural scene. But in terms of the Western or Northern concepts, we've not been that present until documenta. When the discussion came up, Alejandra and I were both in Uganda with other Arts Collaboratory members and we were approached to just think about the idea of being part of lumbung inter-lokal.
It raised many questions, not only because we were really wanting to reconsider how we operated and functioned as an organization, but also it's just quite scary, I think, to be out there in the public eye and under scrutiny. The kind of press that is circulating around the antisemitism campaign is one of the many ways in which this kind of practice can be attacked, and especially considering the press around the Turner Prize (the UK contemporary art prize) last year also and how the discussion was escaping collective practice. I find it common to be skeptical of big scale contemporary art institutions like documenta. I think it also helped to set the tone of what we might expect here from not necessarily the arts press, but certainly from the more mainstream. We're going to see objects in a traditional exhibition sense. But anyway, that's just my perspective on the kind of international context.
RDB: Thinking about the “lumbung” concept and ruangrupa’s set of values, which are local anchor, humor, independence, generosity, transparency, sufficiency, and regeneration. How do you refer to that? And where do you position yourself between this constellation of allies in the “lumbung” structure?
JC: We identify ourselves with all the values. However, the humor has been very difficult to find over the last two years since we joined this process. It's not easy to have to build empathy through the lumbung process, which had to go online due to COVID. Going back to that invitation, it all sounded quite utopian. It replicated so many things that had been happening in the Arts Collaboratory and were placed in this lumbung idea for documenta. However, we got struck with the COVID crisis. We couldn't start to build those relations in the way that we've set out. Two years ago, it was impossible to do that over Zoom. We have these majelis where we come together as lumbung members; we have working groups where we share and discuss ideas around collective governance and so on. But actually doing it without being able to physically meet is really tough. In terms of the values, I think we can all identify as individuals and as collectives and organizations to those values in different ways.
CRP: The only thing that I want to say is how I understand MaMa practices for myself. It is important to understand that this is an ecosystem. Everything exists in unity. Something happens in one place and has an effect on the other. Colombia is a part of the world where extractivism never stops. For Indigenous people, gold had a spiritual meaning, but with the course of time it has become a little thing that can make a person rich. The capitalist mindset and spiritual cosmovision collided here, with the first one exhausting this land and forcing people to leave their lands. The art practices that we share allow us to raise the topics that nobody wants to speak about. Through this artistic collaboration, we look for a way to heal this pain. We try to switch the focus from blame to action. We emphasize the importance of taking individual and shared responsibility for the outcomes.
Why is it our responsibility? I feel that this is the best word, my favorite word this year, responsibility. Everyone has to take their portion of responsibility. Not fault, fault is something negative. Nobody needs it. Mankind needs responsibility. Also, I think this lesson, this project, and these collaborations are a chance to take on different kinds of responsibility and set up a space to speak about the issues that nobody wants to speak about.
AR: I think what Carmenza shared crosses the two questions you posed earlier. The concept of the Global South, not as a geographical area, but as a kind of subordinate to the hegemonic one. In it, powers that are economic and political play a very important role. Our curatorial practice, together with ruangrupa, tries to reach this entanglement of organizations at a global level, operating in very different contexts, most of which are crossed by these power relations. Some of the countries where these organizations arise have been colonized in the past, or belong to the postcolonial present, that of extractive economies, neoliberalized economies or relations. So, to bring multiple different realities into that one concept of pluriversalidad (pluriversality), or planetarization, is like considering how many worlds, how many cosmovisions and practices live together? Usually, I have the feeling that the hegemonic spaces in the arts do not wish for “different” realities like ours to be together, so being part of these interconnections is vital to the relevant struggles of the world and individual communities.
Art is not neutral, art can be part of oppression, but it can also be part of transformation, a tool to expand limits. One could say that in a way lumbung's practices/ideas/positions are really insisting on art being political, being on the side of the oppressed, with all the layers that the term "oppression" can carry. Some people relate to this term more than others—and this is an issue we discussed with Carmenza as well—the purpose is not to be in competition for who is more oppressed, but in the acknowledgement and construction, because our enemies are already huge. I think this whole process is a challenge due to racism or the colonized mindset in our roots. It's hard to understand that difficulty and all the layers that go through each of our bodies in different ways. Understanding and finding solidarity is the solution. Sometimes we have a lot of conflict within our respective societies, and we kind of “romanticize” the collective processes, but I think just having an invitation to take part in documenta is already an accomplishment. Most people around us don't even know what documenta is. I didn't even know what documenta was! I don't want to put documenta on a pedestal, "Oh I really want to be there!" but rather, "How can documenta fifteen be good for our processes and contexts?” This is where it is important for us to be. To be at documenta not as an end, but as a means.
VM: Do the city/state/your local funding bodies play a role in supporting your organization?
AR: Very little, but yes. Last year, for example, we decided to work with Carmenza and Marella on a submission for a yearly open call that the Ministry of Culture announces. But no matter how elaborate your proposal is, corruption culture and the rules for managing your project are very restricted: you have to comply and show how you spend every cent; it's very tough. The maximum we got is about €4,000-€5,000 for an annual project, which is not much, plus you are always competing with other organizations and institutions.
MaMa has been part of Arts Collaboratory and has been funded for almost ten years to pay for the basic functioning of the organization: we call it Core Funding. This a difficult situation that relates with another complex issue Carmenza discusses, which is the precarity affecting the individual lives of cultural practitioners. We are constantly investing lots of energy for the collective/social process, the communitary or barrio process around us, which is never enough and in a way leave unattended the living conditions of cultural workers. Mainly because normally the one or two people who form the basis of an organization, and make it work, are the ones that nobody wants to pay. Normally, you can't pay rent or permanent workers who are doing administration and leadership, and our organizations are made up of that. You have to pay rent for your space where you develop the project (or where you live), and whoever is actually producing the work/administrative tasks also has to be paid. This is the basic structure of an organization, and many funds even in Europe don’t allow the use of their support on living and structural expenses. Arts Collaboratory has been a unique opportunity to have a founding core free of agendas and restrictions, with the traditional conditions, to be in a position of having a basic operation system, plus having some money for an autonomous program. The question is always, how can we replicate this opportunity?
This interview was conducted on February 1, 2020, via Zoom, and has been edited for length.
Jonathan Colin is the co-founder and core team member of Más Arte Más Acción. After studying art and cultural management, Jonathan worked as a cultural manager in the UK and Colombia and has spent much of the last twenty years in Chocó. Chocó's natural environment, and friends from the region, have shaped his interest in climate change and justice. He is currently working with the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia's Amazon (OPIAC) and other partners on Possible Dialogues and co-producing the MaMa hub for documenta fifteen.
Carmenza Rojas Potes – Bambazú – is a Black feminist from the Chocó and a social worker (Univalle) with a specialization in cultural management (Urosario), currently pursuing a master’s degree in management and development practice (UniAndes). Her experience has revolved around the management of cultural, environmental, educationa,l and artistic programs and projects with Black communities in the Pacific region of Chocó with Fundación Mareia. She is currently involved in Más Arte Más Acción for management and cultural production.
Alejandra Rojas is a core-team member and legal representative of Más Arte Más Acción. Rojas is a designer and cultural manager, currently pursuing a master’s degree in development, with an interest in the critical studies of development. Her experience has revolved around the management of cultural programs and projects in the public and educational sector, working for the Universidad Nacional and the Ministry of Culture. She has been part of the MaMa team for four years and is now in charge of the production for documenta fifteen.
Rossana Alarcón is a visual artist with an emphasis in graphic expression. Alarcón is also a specialist in pedagogy from the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional and is currently pursuing a master 's degree in cultural studies at the National University of Colombia. She has worked in design and editorial projects as an early childhood teacher and in research. She is currently part of the research project CARLA -Cultures of Antiracism in Latin America of the National University of Colombia and the University of Manchester. She is part of the Más Arte Más Acción team in knowledge management and communications.
Rosela del Bosque lives and works in Mexicali, Baja California (México), and is a curator, cultural practitioner, and researcher. Her interests focus on the local context and entwine empathy, memory, historical revisionism, and reconstructing more-than-human relations in the Colorado River Delta landscape. She studied art history and curatorial studies at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla. She has completed courses in curatorial practice and contemporary art from Central Saint Martins and the Università di Siena. She has collaborated with Museo Jumex on volunteer programs focused on art education and with MCASD (Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego) on curatorial research. She has co-curated projects at La Nana ConArte (Mexico City), with the curatorial collective base_arriba (Mexicali), Reforma 917 (Puebla), and OnCurating Project Space (Zurich). She is currently an associate curator at Planta Libre (gallery and project space) and pursuing a Master of Advanced Studies in Curating at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK).
Veronica Mari lives in Vienna and works for TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. She is a curator, photographer and researcher. She studied photography at Fondazione Studio Marangoni and later completed the MAS Program in Curating at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK). She worked at Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography and curated the group exhibition Organic Traces in 2022 at 89cento Art Gallery, accompanied by her first editorial publication. She wrote the curatorial project for Purificatio, with the artist Valery Franzelli, presented to Spazio Volta.
Olena Iegorova is a Ukrainian independent curator, educator, and cultural practitioner. Olena holds her first master’s degree in philology and pedagogy. After establishing her own art and education center in Odesa, Ukraine, she worked on multiple public art projects, including city-scale street art festivals, charity fairs, and exhibitions in Ukraine, and later in Qatar, since 2014. The main focus of her practice lies at the intersection of art and education, with a focus on social change. Olena is a graduate of MAS Programme in Curating at Zurich University of the Arts and is currently a research team member at Continuing Education Centre (ZHdK). She is also a curatorial member of OnCurating Project Space. Since the beginning of 2022, she has co-curated multiple big-scale art exhibitions in Switzerland, such as Terra Omnium and Last Words from the Periphery II.
 As the New York Times reported on May 27, 2021: “Protests have rocked Colombia for more than a month, during which time thousands of people have taken to the streets of its major cities, protesters have blocked roads, and police have responded, sometimes with lethal force. At least 46 people, many of them protesters, have been killed.” The trigger for the protests was a fiscal adjustment proposed by Duque, which many Colombians felt would have made it even more difficult to survive in an economy already choked by the pandemic. Students, teachers, health workers, farmers, indigenous communities, and many others have gathered in the streets. Accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/es/2021/05/27/espanol/protestas-colombia.html.
 “Buenaventura is the country's main port for foreign trade. It has five maritime terminals that mobilize around 50% of the country's non-traditional product imports destined for Valle, southwestern Colombia and the interior. Exports from Valle del Cauca and this region move through these terminals. [...] "The strike began on April 28 and for more than 20 days the passage of vehicles was completely restricted, which created a problem of saturation of the terminals that made it necessary to cancel the arrival and departure of new ships for a while," said Edwin Maldonado, director of the Comité Intergremial del Valle del Cauca.” Accessed August 18, 2022,
 Colectivo de Comunicaciones en Puja is a group of young people and leaders from Nuquí, Chocó, and members of the Community Council Los Riscales interested in working for the good of our communities, facilitating information, and promoting dialogue for the conservation of our natural resources, cultural heritage, and defense of the territory.
 The purpose of this law is to recognize the Black communities that have been occupying uncultivated land in the rural riparian zones of the rivers of the Pacific Basin, according to their traditional production practices and the right to collective property. In accordance with the provisions of the following articles, it also aims to also aims to establish mechanisms for the protection of the cultural identity and rights of the Black communities of Colombia as an ethnic group, and the promotion of their economic and social development and to guarantee that these communities obtain real conditions of equality and equal opportunities with the rest of Colombian society.