A Maze About Maize: An Amerindian Divinity and its Transgenic Avatars

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Session Title:

  • Bacteria to Elephants: Practices of Bioart

Presentation Title:

  • A Maze About Maize: An Amerindian Divinity and its Transgenic Avatars

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Abstract:

  • This paper discusses a project that explores biodiversity at the intersection of ancient and contemporary science and technologies. It responds to the following questions: “Where is corn growing? Where is it going? And, why should I care?” It investigates current practices of resource conservation, environmental preservation, sustainable technologies and biodiversity protection in Mexico, the USA and Canada. Presented as a multi-modal project incorporating electronic media, the project is designed as a maze about maize, because nothing is clear-cut or simple when it comes to the pros and cons of agro-practices today. The complex foundational issues and convoluted stakes derive from history, ethnology, sociology, biopolitics, law and intellectual property, agronomy, ecology, science, and technology of maize.

    The essay discusses the plant’s evolution from its status as Amerindian divinity, to its contemporary transgenic avatars in the Americas. The author draws on her knowledge of sacred native beliefs and rituals to grow bountiful maize in Mexico where she lived in the 80s, as well as those practiced by ancient Southwestern Amerindians. She also discusses how her interest in corn grew during her years in academia at a university in the heart of the Corn Belt in Illinois (USA) where she interviewed area specialists about the impact of monocultures on economies and livelihoods resulting from the expansion of fields of transgenic yellow corn that cater to a growing industry of feedstock for cattle, corn fructose for foodstuffs, and bioproducts such as corn plastics (PLA) and corn ethanol.

    The author investigates several positions: maize as part of the spiritual, social and economic fabric bonding indigenous cultures today in Mexico (the center of diverse corn in Mesoamerica); maize as lucrative commercial product for exploitation by multinational industries; and finally maize as savior plant in a society polluted by its own waste and quickly depleting non-renewable resources. By investigating these cross-sections in time and place, the paper exposes why should one care about maize. It unravels the myths and realities behind the multiple viewpoints and discordant voices about the subject, and speculates on possible alliances.

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