Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Targeting "Plan Colombia": A Critical Analysis of Ideological and Political Visual Narratives by the Beehive Collective and the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Targeting "Plan Colombia": A Critical Analysis of Ideological and Political Visual Narratives by the Beehive Collective and the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum

Article excerpt

The Beehive Collective has been a decentralized, international network of cultural workers and image-based educators whose graphic campaigns are renowned throughout South America, Central America, and parts of the global North (Hoffman, 2003). Since its founding in 1999 by a small group of youthful anti-globalization activists, the collective has created a trilogy of large-scale graphics - "Free Trade Area of the Americas," "Plan Colombia," and "Mesoamerica Resiste!" - that chronicle the major economic-political shifts of our time from the standpoint of those whose voices have been silenced by the corporate media (Beehive Design Collective, 2004a). The hand-drawn graphics have been illustrated narratives based on conversations between Beehive artists and indigenous and peasant farmers, activists, and researchers in Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, and the United Sates (Hoffman, 2003). The collective's "Plan Colombia" has been the product of a one-year grassroots story-gathering project conducted in Colombia by Colombian nationals working in collaboration with Colombian American and white North American members of the Beehive Collective (Erler, 2006). Because the collective has operated in countries where involvement could bring retribution from government, military, or corporate forces, individual members refer to themselves only by the first initial of their given names, followed by "bee" (re: c. bee).

"Plan Colombia"

Since 1999, the U.S. has given some $4.5 billion to a program to fight drug trafficking and leftist guerrillas in Colombia (Center for International Policy [CIP] , 2006) . Under President G. W Bush, about half of the program's budget-$306 million (Cooper, 2001; CIP, 2001) - went to private defense contractors such as Military Professional Resources Inc. (CIP, 2007; U.S. Department of State, 2001, 2007; Harrop, 2007). Working with the Colombian military, these private armies or "Enhanced International Peacekeeping Forces" (CIP, 2006) have undertaken the large-scale fumigation of illicit coca plants using the herbicide, glyphosate. Scientists and indigenous leaders have repeatedly warned that the spraying of chemical herbicides to destroy coca fields seriously threatens the rainforests and wildlife of the Amazon as well as the health of indigenous and small farming communities. The large quantities of glyphosate dropped from the sky have killed food crops and caused a series of health problems and water contamination (Knight, 2000), resulting in what the United Nations (2004) called, "the biggest humanitarian disaster in the Western Hemisphere."

Colombian nationals have tried to tell the story of the programs devastating impact on peasant farmers and indigenous peoples (Hart, 2000; Leech, 2000; Refugees International, 2004; Amnesty International, 2004). It has been this story that the Beehive Collective tells in its monumental banner, "Plan Colombia" (see Figure 1).


I became a participatory action researcher with the collective in 2005. My perspective was informed by cross-disciplinary studies in visual culture and art education (Duncum, 2004, 2001; Desai & Chalmers, 2007; Desai, 2005; Knight, 2006; Bolin & Blandy, 2003; Tavin, 2007) focusing on tactical political usages of visual media in die public sphere (Darts, 2008, 2006, 2004). As a researcher, my role in the collective was to help develop learning tools for unpacking (Keifer-Boyd, Amburgy, & Knight, 2007) the multitude of visual symbols contained in each graphic while opening them up to interpretation. The "tools" I devised were based on my experience presenting "Plan Colombia" with other members of the collective in the context of educational events called "picture-lectures." They emerged from one particularly persistent question: If the Beehive Collective's "Plan Colombia" graphic was a counter-narrative of events in Colombia (Beehive Collective 2004b), what was the dominant narrative?

To answer this question, I researched the mainstream news press for images and articles suggesting an attitude, perspective, or set of ideas about Colombia and/or the people of Colombia. …

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