Panel 17: Indigenous Lands and Visual Rhetoric in Ecomedia II (pre-formed)



Panel 17: Indigenous Lands and Visual Rhetoric in Ecomedia II (pre-formed by the Indigenous Ecocriticism SIG)

Chair: Abigail Perez Aguilera (

This panel (as part of a two series panel on Indigenous ecomedia) explores ecomedia practices from South America, Africa and Oceania. The papers present different ecomedia—from films, videopoems to art installations—that address indigenous knowledges, cosmopolitics, heteronormative ideals, resistance practices, and rights while discussing the limits of Western environmental thought. In their papers, the panelists offer discussions on decolonial aesthetics, queering indigenous and non-indigenous performativities, indigenous resistance as well as non- human agencies. Drawing Indigenous studies theories and methodologies to the fore, the panel advances interdisciplinary discussions on ecomedia, highlighting Indigenous media relevance to ecological resistance, critiques to Anthropocentrism and capitalism as well as environmental justice and decolonial aesthetics.

“Decolonially Queer: Indigenous Ecocriticism, Queer Ecologies, and Multispecies Relationships in Recent Latin American Film and Art”

Vera Coleman (Lecturer in Spanish, Carleton College)

“Eco-Testimonies and Eco-Memories in Olosho: Placing Indigenous Ecomedia within the De-/Coloniality of Nature”

Felix Mantz (M.A. student in International Political Economy, King’s College London)

Inal Mama: Subjugated Indigenous Knowledges and the Sacredness of the Coca Leaf”

Abigal Perez Aguilera (Lecturer in Department of Politics, Justice and Global Studies, Westminster College)

“Praise Your Capacity: Oceania, the Anthropocene, and Craig Santos Perez’s Videopoems”

Rebecca Hogue (Ph.D. candidate in Native American Studies, University of California, Davis)

Q & A

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25 replies
  1. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Vera: Thank you for a very interesting presentation! I am not familiar with these artists and their works, so I’m excited to learn more about them. I am particularly intrigued by Cardoso’s installations. I wondered if you could say more about her museum of reproductive organs and how you see that potentially working alongside your argument here? On her use of taxidermy, I like your argument that her use of taxidermied animals is not gratuitous but a critique of traditional taxidermy. Have you read Rachel Poliquin’s The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing? It’s a beautiful book and – if you haven’t read it yet – I imagine it could contribute to your argument there. On that subject, I also wondered if you found any information about where the artist got the animals used in her installation – in other words, how were they sourced, on the one one hand, but also are the species she used specific to her location? I am fascinated by taxidermy, but I also think it’s important to pay attention to the specificity of the animals and their bodies themselves, too, not just how they are used or what they represent.

  2. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Felix: Your talk is very interesting and well outside my particular fields of knowledge, so I’m afraid I don’t have very specific comments or questions for you. I do have one more general question, though. I wonder if you could comment on the larger context that this short film belongs to. In other words, are there other films doing similar work that you could mention? Does this film grow out of a film community there? Or does Olosho represent a departure from how Maasai culture is usually represented or how such colonial issues are dealt with? Thank you for helping me to learn more about this part of the world in your talk.

    • F.Mantz says:

      Hi Christy, Thank you for your questions! This particular film was a product of a collaboration between the Maasai from Loliondo and InsightShare, which is a development organization that uses participatory films to have different communities around the globe voice their struggles. A link to their webpage is here: . In addition to Olosho, there are other short films that were made through this collaboration, which each discuss different aspects of Maasai culture in detail such as spiritual and cultural practices as well as current issues with gender relations. However, I am not aware of other self-directed indigenous Maasai films that have been produced. So at this point, I would say that this is a new form of addressing colonial issues and resistance by the Maasai, but more in-depth research on this question might result in a different answer.
      Of course, there are multiple movies, documentaries and films that focus on the Maasai, but those are usually directed and narrated by outsiders.
      The closest comparable form of addressing colonial issues I am aware of is through African hip-hop. One example would be the Swahili hip hop group X Plastaz who often collaborate with the Maasai for songs and music videos that address the devastating effects of colonialism, capitalism and persistent poverty.
      Thank you again for your comment, I hope this answer was somewhat helpful!

  3. vcoleman says:

    Hi Christy, thank you very much for your comments and questions about my presentation! I am not yet familiar with Poliquin’s work, but from what I can tell it would help bring more nuance to my discussion of Cardoso’s use of taxidermy, particularly in relation to taxidermy as an expression of longing (for example, in Corona para una princesa chibcha, which can be seen as a way of re-materializing what has been lost). You raise a very important question about the particular species and geographic origin of the taxidermied animals in her installations, and I will pose that question to Cardoso in my next conversation with her. I fully agree with you that we must remain attentive and respectful to their specificity as embodied beings.

    I would be happy to say more about Cardoso’s MoCO (Museum of Copulatory Organs), since I discuss it in detail in the larger version of my project. For any readers of this post who may not be familiar with it, MoCO uncovers the exuberant sexualities of a whole slew of plants and animals by displaying enlarged, three-dimensional resin replicas of their genitalia, arranged in museum showcases. Alongside Cardoso’s taxidermy pieces, I see MoCO as similarly deconstructing the heteronormative visual semiotics of natural history museum displays while challenging “repro-centric” and anthropocentric discourses about what constitutes the “natural.” In particular, MoCO confronts spectators with the realization that nonreproductive sexual pleasure, desire, and agency is not limited strictly to the sphere of rational, human “subjects.” For example, one group of sculptures depicts the incredible morphological diversity of harvestmen genitalia (a spider-like genus of arachnid). I know that Cardoso’s replicas are from a few species found in Tasmania, and other members of the genus are listed as endangered in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and the United States. Harvestmen genitalia have evolved partially in response to what behavioral ecologist William G. Eberhard has called “cryptic female choice,” or a female’s ability to control by chemical or physical means whether sex will result in insemination. In other words, female harvestmen regularly choose to engage in sexual activity independent of reproduction, and biologists have shown that the elaborate shape of their genitalia in fact evolved precisely to generate sexual pleasure. Another fascinating example from Cardoso’s MoCO is that of Phallomedusa solida, a tiny hermaphroditic species of mangrove snail that injects mates with chemical compounds that alter each other’s sex organs! I believe the highly polymorphous sexualities of the species in Cardoso’s installations help us break down discourses that normalize reproductive heterosexuality as the only “natural” expression of sexual behavior and desire, both within and beyond the scope of the human.

    Thank you again for your comments and suggestions. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Wow! Thanks for the additional information. That is so interesting. I wish I’d known about her work sooner! I just finished teaching a course on environmental literature and culture with readings from Stacy Alaimo and Bruce Bagemihl on queer animals, and we read Poliquin and talked taxidermy midway through the semester. Cardoso’s work would’ve been a wonderful addition! Next time, I suppose.

      • vcoleman says:

        Hi Christy,
        Your course sounds fascinating! I would love to see your syllabus, if you felt comfortable sharing it. Also, I would be very interested to hear what your students’ responses were to the readings on queer ecologies as well as Poliquin’s text.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Vera, Felix, Abigail, and Rebecca,

    Thank you for your informative and engaging presentations. First of all, I love both XXY and Fish Child and so appreciated your readings of these films, Vera–and introductions to those I had not encountered. Felix, Thank you for your reading of the Maasai culture. I look forward to reading answers to the questions Christy broached. I am also unfamiliar with Inal Mama, Abigail, and appreciated your introduction. I love videopoems, Rebecca–and appreciated the focus on Water you broach (connecting with the previous panel in interesting ways). Thank you for introducing me to oral narratives from Craig Santos Perez. They will serve as apt examples for my Ecomedia, digital writing, and creative writing students (as well as myself). Perhaps notions of ecology as place and dis-placement might bring these poignant presentations together? Intriguing!

    • Abigail says:


      Thanks for your comment, -rlmurray50-. I like your suggestions about seeing these presentations as dis-placement and place. Since Vera Coleman’s presentation focus is on the body, we can see how Felix’s and Rebecca’s piece tie together to notions of remembrance and resistance. In my case, I try to link indigenous rights to larger discussions of criminalization of indigenous lifeways, extending this to a non-human agent, the coca leaf.

  5. Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

    Abigail: I really enjoyed your talk! It reminded me of the legal history of peyote in the United States. I am wondering if legal-juridical-medical structures have tried to defend their criminalization of the coca leaf by feigning concern for indigenous “health”?

    • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

      This is an interesting question, I would like to see the answer to this too! This is something indigenous Patagonians discuss in The Pearl Button, but with water safety. They aren’t allowed to use traditional canoes because the Chilean government thinks that the small canoes are unsafe for the Tierra del Fuego, despite them being used there for centuries.

    • Abigail says:

      Hi Kristen and Matthew!
      These are interesting questions and comments! Thank you!

      In Bolivia, since Evo Morales became president, the government has implemented a constant effort to de-criminalize indigenous lifeways. At the same time, arguments based on health have been made, the stronger ones are based on indigenous rights, indigenous cosmologies (and cosmopolitics) and the revitalization of indigenous knowledge systems (IKs).

      This is important since (like with the peyote) is a clash between the Western legal framework (with the purpose of regulating indigenous lives) and traditional/ancestral/indigenous knowledge systems.

      I think it is important to notice that Bolivia had a dictatorship ( as in the case of Chile -thanks Matthew for your talk-) and has a history of contentious racial relations. This is going to determine which lives are regulated, criminalized and eliminated. If you watch Inal Mama, you are going to notice that the coca leaf is connected to indigenous cosmologies, but more importantly is a symbol of resistance and continuity of indigeneity in the Andes.

      A similar case would be in Chile with the Mapuches and their struggle for land and sovereignty, right Matthew?



      • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

        Yes, this is a good connection considering a large part of the Mapuches resistance is not only about sovereignty but the timber industries that have stripped the land. At least some of this resistance comes from the perspective that if traditional Mapuche farming/inhabitation practices were observed this would be restorative for the ecologies themselves. A very bioregional perspective indeed, but this also seems to resonate with Coca as a symbol of resistance and a traditional farming/medicinal practice.

        • Abigail says:

          Hi Matthew,

          Thanks for your reply/comment. I am truly interested about your work on bioregionalism. I visited the Andes and my work is around environmental justice and agroecological perspectives.I think the Andean cosmologies are a good place to analyze bioregional perspectives linked to indigenous cosmologies.

          • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

            Hi Aby,

            Thank you, this is very valuable. It is easier to look at one bioregion and define the relationship between environment, social, and psychological organization, but part of this project is to look for diverse examples so that we might see what is consistent across these examples in order to establish a larger framework for bioregional media. So your insight into Andean cosmologies is very useful here!

            I can share some of my work if you are interested, and I would love to hear about any ways your work intersects with these ideas so that I might cite you! Let’s keep in touch post-conference!


  6. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Felix:
    Thanks for cluing us into the films made by the First Nation Masai people. The less interference in terms of intermediaries the better. Sembene always argued very powerfully for this kind of cinema and he has always been right.

  7. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Vera;
    Really like the combination of visual 3 D art with film making. The more Robin and I think we have seen the less we know, so it’s great to see a approach like yours. Since it’s easy to track down films, but hard to get to many museums, this kind of work shows us how complicated the roles of many artists have been in examining the issues you have clearly described in your presentation.

    • vcoleman says:

      Hi Joseph,
      Thank you for your comments about my presentation. Fortunately for me, many artists put sample images of their work online and on social media. Although this may be a poor substitute for seeing the pieces in person, especially when it comes to sculptures and installations, at least it can make their work more accessible to a wider audience. For instance, I’ll share the link to María Fernanda Cardoso’s blog in case you or any other viewers are interested in seeing more:

  8. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Abigal:
    Thanks for introducing this key problem to us. Many of us seen countless films about cocaine both fictional and documentaries and for decades!! Your attempts to force us to reintegrate our vision back to the foundational use of this plant is really well done and timely. And it honors all the First Nation people who have revered it for thousands of years.

  9. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Thanks Rebecca for getting us into the avant garde visions of Perez. This is a first time introduction for me, so it’s off to find his work, thanks to your clear and concise presentation.

  10. Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

    Hi Vera,

    I really appreciated your talk and turn towards bioregionalism towards the end. I found your argument about the environment in which Alex inhabits mirroring the complexities of their gender particularly compelling. I was wondering if you might say more about how her inhabiting this particular bioregion shapes Alex’s understanding of gender or response towards gender in the film? Does the character respond to the environment in a particular way, or does it provide more of a conceptual landscape through which the film works?

    And do Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann inform your understanding of bioregionalism here? If so, I’d be particularly interested in how you understand the intersection between sustainability, inhabitation, and gender. This is a really fascinating intersection of ideas in these films, thank you again for the talk!


    • vcoleman says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thank you for your comments and questions about my talk! I would be happy to say more about the relationship between Alex’s response toward gender and her/his situatedness within this particular bioregion, which I see Alex as responding to in a particular way. In terms of the film’s poetics, XXY continually depicts Alex as connected to the spaces and species of the Uruguayan coast. Her/his marine biologist father Kraken recalls how Alex was conceived on the rocky shore and was blue when s/he was born, unable to breathe during the first forty seconds of her/his life (an interesting parallel with Ailín’s child’s respiratory irregularities in El niño pez). Furthermore, he film’s blue tones are reflected in the color of Alex’s eyes, and particular editing choices associate Alex’s sexual liminality with that of the diverse aquatic species prevalent in the film. Multiple scenes show Alex floating on her/his back in tide pools, walking on the beach, or interacting with sea turtles, iguanas, crabs, salamanders, and other organisms of the region. While there is much I could say on this topic, here I will focus on one organism in particular that is especially enigmatic of the bioregion: endangered sea turtles that come from nesting beaches all over the Atlantic to forage along the Uruguayan coast. Some of the first scenes in the film show Alex and Kraken helping injured sea turtles that had become caught in fishing nets. Alex wears on a chain around her/his neck sea turtle identification tags that s/he employs, I argue, to reconfigure notions of kinship beyond the limits of the human while also challenging heterosexist constructions of family and courtship—s/he gifts a necklace with one of her/his tags to a boy with whom Alex is romantically involved. Although this is not directly represented in the film, biologists have documented a range of nonreproductive sexual behaviors in sea turtles, such as homoerotic mountings and the use of inanimate objects (or unsuspecting human researchers) for sexual stimulation. These are some of ways in which I see Alex’s inhabitation of the bioregion as complementing her/his understanding of gender in the film.

      I appreciate you bringing Berg and Dasmann’s work to my attention, as their understanding of bioregionalism (alongside your own take on it in your talk, which I found fascinating) will help me bring more nuance to my discussion of it in Puenzo’s films. In response to your question about the intersections of sustainability, habitation, and gender, I will say that sea turtles and Alex’s relationship with them become a point of visibilization of some of the violent conflicts that have characterized the ecological and social history of the bioregion in ways that may be relevant to your own compelling discussion of “critical bioregionalisms.” Specifically, the film shows how both Alex and the sea turtles are targeted by those invested in exploitative fishing practices that put sea turtles and other endangered species at risk. For example, one scene showing mutilated sea turtles that fishermen had left on Alex’s doorstep can be seen as tracing histories of homophobic violence as well as processes of industrialization and circulation of global capital that have shaped and continue to shape the bioregion.

      Thanks again for your questions. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

  11. Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    There seems to be a thread running throughout this conference: water as both the genesis of life and the end of life. The Pearl Button takes a similar approach, and I’m not sure if you’ve already viewed it but Emily Roehl’s paper does so as well in the previous panel with drones and water canons.

    I don’t know if you have any further thoughts here, but I wonder if this is a larger shift with climate change away from the pastoral and the Edenic as has been discussed in other panels throughout this conference, and towards a more ambivalent or perhaps just non-anthropomorphic vision of environments in general (and water in particular)?

    Thank you for your talk!

  12. smonani says:

    Dear panelists, I am so sorry to be coming in so late to the conversation. I have been in transit these last couple of weeks relocating across the country (from sabbatical institution to home institution). The advantage of coming in late, is seeing some of the existing and invigorating discussions.

    Since I had promised to be a respondent to the panels, below I have tried to provide a more general, over-arching commentary, and hope that it might also add to the excellent discussion so far.

    “Thinking Across the Two Indigenous Ecocriticism SIG Sponsored panels”

    As one of the initiators (along with Kyle Bladow and Aby Perez Aguilera) of the two panels sponsored by the Indigenous Ecocriticism Special Interest Group, I am delighted to respond to the papers that came in via the open call for these panels and that collectively comprise Indigenous Lands and Visual Rhetoric in Ecomedia I and II. Together these papers continue the work Joni Adamson and I set out to do in our edited collection, Ecocriticism and Indigenous Studies: Conversations from Earth to Cosmos in important ways. First, they clearly demonstrate Indigenous ecocriticism’s conversations with a range of theoretical lenses—from Matthew’s attention to bioregionalism to Vera’s gendered and queer studies approach. Second, they productively engage a diversity of media: from Vera’s attention to art installations, to Emily’s focus on drone and satellite technologies, Rebecca’s on videopoems, and the variety of cinema discussed—Matthew and Rogelio’s attention to the blurring lines of documentary and avant-garde experimentation, Aby and Felix’s focus on more explicitly political and participatory documentary, and Vera’s attention to fictional film. Third, they push us to think critically of locales beyond that of North America (and Europe). It is exciting to see the strong presence of South American representation, but also to see Felix’s essay engaging Maasai peoples in Africa and Rebecca’s attention to Oceania. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, these papers collectively demonstrate that they respond to Sean Cubitt’s plenary talk’s closing remarks—his provocation to think of how media might help liberate us from the Anthropocene/Capitalocene.
    It is on this last point that I want to say a few more words. In doing so, I do want to start by thanking not only the presenters in these two panels, but also the plenary speakers—Alexa and Sean—as well as the organizers of the conference for generating this thought-provoking space. In the spirit of symposia spaces, my response is not polished by any means, but instead offered as still forming thoughts informed by my own research interests at the intersections of Indigenous studies and ecomedia studies.
    So, I begin by first considering one of Sean’s observations that also brings attention to the important role of affect that Alexa’s scholarship highlights. Sean observes that “becoming human and becoming environment” is dangerously con/subsumed by the cybernetic machinery of the Capitalocene. I read his discussion of this ‘capital cyborg’ as ultimately and terrifyingly *unfeeling*. I want to suggest that by highlighting Indigenous perspectives many of these panel papers generate resistance to the terrifying numbness of such capitalist unfeeling. Instead they draw attention to how it might feel to ‘become human and become environment’ in radically different ways than prescribed by the ‘capital cyborg’s’ single-minded focus on land, bodies, and labor as reducible to profitable resource and data.
    In general, each presentation’s content encodes a means to feel outside and against the capitalist cyborg through specific attention to Indigenous ways of knowing. Just as one example, I want to highlight Rebecca’s attention to the ocean as understood through the perspectives of Indigenous Pacific Islanders. Its presence as part of these panels on “Indigenous Lands” reminds us how Indigenous understandings of land overflow narrow containers that capitalism prescribes. Captial simultaneously delimits land as property even as its discourse disaggregates land from ocean/water. Rebecca’s essay instead helps us see land as what Indigenous scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson describes as integral to Indigenous place:

    “place includes animal nations and plant nations, the water, the air, and the soil—meaning the land is a part of us and our sovereignty rather than an abstract natural resource for our unlimited use. The word place includes sacred and spiritual dimensions that transcend both time and space. It includes my body, my heart, and my mind (in “The Place Where We All Live and Work Together: A Gendered Analysis of “Sovereignty” in the Native Studies Keywords 24).

    All of these essays draw attention to Indigenous relations to “land” as simultaneously “place” and thus, complexly relational, concomitantly spiritual and corporeal, and inherently transgressive of capital’s attempts to bind (especially in spatial or temporal terms).
    I am also impressed by how these presentations’ highlight media aesthetics as a means to generate what Indigenous literary scholar, Mark Rifkin has called “Indigenous structures of feeling”–structures which are tied to sensations of “belonging to place and peoplehood excluded from settler governance” (173 in Driscoll et al’s Queer Indigenous Studies). I am personally fascinated by how many of the presentations’ make room for such feelings—not only are we exposed to the aesthetics of the primary texts; e.g., screen shots, individual clips from films, etc., but also to the aesthetics of what the presenters chose to show and how. From the visual artistry of Matthew’s attention to the Gutzman’s Pearl Button to Emily’s decision to let the focused orality of her presentation work in concert with her audience’s *imaginaries* and memories of the DAPL conflict, and the spectrum of choices in the other presentations, I see many of these presentations remap (as some of the commentary discussion already notes), remake (in Sean’s words), and rethink (recalling, as Rogelio does, Scott MacDonald’s earliest calls for what ecocinema might do) media’s part in Indigenous sovereignty. Linking content that foregrounds Indigenous peoples’ agencies and cosmovisions of what it means to “be human” and “of” the environment, even the Prezi presentations seem to take up the tools of the ‘capitalist cyborg’ to encourage their audiences to contemplate alternative ways of becoming human and becoming environment.
    The second point I want to make also links us back to the plenaries’ attention to resistance/liberation and affect concerns. It draws on Sean’s comment regarding the melancholia that the capitalist cyborg and the Capitalocene inflict on the White European “we”—the sadness of knowing that “no speech is adequate” to “speak on behalf of the oppressed.” Sean’s comments fall within larger discussions central to critical race theory and Indigenous studies; ones that are being taken up by ASLE’s graduate student reading group this summer through attention to Indigenous scholars such as Zoe Todd, Heather Davis, and Kyle Whyte. As these Indigenous scholars remind us, the terrain of “speaking on behalf of” is treacherous (often paternalistic, and, thus, as Sean suggests ultimately inadequate). Indigenous scholar Kim Tallbear in her 2014 “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry” provides a different approach, one that states: “I transfer my ethic of wanting to stand with other indigenous people—to inquire in ways that hook up with their intellectual projects in the service of indigenous sovereignty.” Tallbear, thus, articulates an activist methodology, grounded not just in ethics of care—“speaking on behalf of”—but in reciprocity, “speaking as faith.” The latter frames a form of co-constituted speech that “works in concert with” those who have otherwise been marginalized in systems of power.
    One thought for us all as we reflect on the papers in these panels is to consider how they negotiate speech. By foregrounding Indigenous perspectives, I would argue, that in some shape or form, each moves us towards Tallbear’s potential. But, I encourage us all, especially the authors, to think of how, and to what extent. Such inquiry helps situate ecomedia and ecocriticism more decisively in conversation with Indigenous studies, particularly with careful attention to what it might mean to think of decolonizing methodologies as an important part of ecomedia’s project of confronting the Capitalocene.

    • smonani says:

      I’m not sure how to edit the comment, but do want to say that smonani, is Salma Monani. 🙂

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