It was a spectacular Sunday morning. My legs ached like never before; knees throbbing as hard as the earth beneath my feet, thighs burning along with my spirit, and pulsating hips leading them through a ten-hour epic EDM festival dancing adventure. There are good reasons for all the glow and gushing when Bass Coast comes up in conversation. It is hard work and tremendous talent that makes all that magic possible. My crew from W2 brought me to my first Bass Coast in 2012 which transformed me inside and out. Excitement stirred in my bones at the thought of returning to this exquisitely curated festival – that is, until the theme was announced: Gold.
A typical festival-goer only thinks good things when they hear the word, “gold.” It is sexy, solid and symbolic of the best things the world has to offer. What a fantastic theme for people who only have a consumer level relationship with ore. But when I hear the word “gold,” I feel the pained words of Angelica Choc hitting my lungs and see the bloodied face of Robinson Guachagmira struggling for the dignity of peaceful land-based existence.
Gold is not benign or apolitical. Its material properties have motivated humans to do terrible things just to possess it. I have spent the last five years listening deeply to stories of how Indigenous people have been displaced, poisoned, raped and killed for the minerals, oil and gas that lay beneath their ancestral homes. These stories are revealed to me mostly because my high cheekbones and cinnamon brown summer-loving skin perceptively connect me to my Andean ancestors and Indigenous people I meet all over Turtle Island. For those relishing the privileges of whiteness, access and unimpeded freedom, these stories are inconvenient and inconsequential. The choice of the theme , “Gold,” for a Canadian music festival demonstrates that clearly.
This shamelessly political dance machine needed to do something to settle my disgust at the blatant ignorance of colonial violence in the acquisition and excavation of gold. When I heard from Toronto’s pollinators of the Beehive Design Collective, that their application to do a workshop at Bass Coast (as part of their “Art of Resistance Tour vol. 2,”) had gone unanswered, I felt the need to bring a little bit of their content to the festival on my own.
At that moment I began to plan More Dignity, Less Digging; a rogue installation that included art, news and data that told stories about human rights violations by settlers of the West and Canadian mining companies.
The west wall of the installation focused on Turtle Island, with a territorial acknowledgment and information about Nlaka’pamux People, artwork by Ronnie Dean Harris (a.k.a Ostwelve) and stories about impacts on, and actions by, Indigenous People in North America.
Holding the corner was the featured piece, Mesoamerica Resiste: an illustrated teaching tool created by the Beehive Design Collective with frontline indigenous communities from Mexico to Colombia which is used to share stories of resistance and survival in the face of globalization, free market capitalism and colonial frames of engagement.
The centre of the mini-exhibit highlighted gold mining in my homeland, Ecuador, where local indigenous people have been brutalized and have survived genocide since the Inca administration came knocking on the door. There were detailed stories from the same jungles and communities that ayahuasca ceremonies are shared; a hook for adventure travelers who consume the sacred medicine like any other luxury they can afford. Data sheets about human rights cases against Canadian mining companies in Ecuador and descriptions of art projects addressing gold mining flanked those stories from the Amazon.
The east wall held news pieces and resources about resistance to Canadian Mining companies around the world including local actions in solidarity with frontline communities. Important education and divestment campaigns were also included to show that the work of stopping the passive support of global mining injustice starts here at home. Anyone in Canada with an account in a National bank, contributing to CPP or paying tuition is investing in mining companies like Taseko, Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, and Hudbay Minerals, whether they want to or not. And in Vancouver, where a majority of festival attendees live, there are 747 head offices of mining companies and their subsidiaries, making it world capital of global mining projects.
These are heavy truths to share at a 3 day party, so in typical festival fashion, it was softened with a comfortable place to rest, textiles, solar lighting and a disco ball from Dressew.
I was happy people could be directed to this educational space, but knew it was not really going to create the intervention I really wanted at this “gold” themed Bass Coast. So, I committed to exploring a more viscerally political tool; my own body. With the 2XL official jersey of the “Selección de fútbol de Ecuador,“ and the serger my mom gifted me, I made a deadly dress.
On it, I used iron on letters and fabric paint to write, “La riqueza de Ecuador se encuentra en la vida, no bajo suelo de mi tierra.” Translation: “The richness of Ecuador is found in life, not under ground in my homeland”
The contradiction of the colonial symbolism of yellow, representing gold on the national flag, in stark contrast with my summer tanned skin is the hook. Mostly the dress features my body, showing off the new tattoo I got to cover the red maple leaf I once wore, because really my physical presence as an Andean woman from Ecuador on a Canadian dance floor is the boldest political statement I can make.
I will not be invisible anymore. The stories from my homeland will not be silenced in my presence. The relationships Canada, the place of my birth, has with people who look like me cannot be ignored for the comfort of bystanders of ongoing crimes against humanity. I refuse to award that privilege to people who benefit directly from gold mining or any forms of extraction, including myself.
All of this information, these stories, and this energy was shared at Bass Coast because I needed to not be alone in holding all these things. Equally, it is not the responsibility of other people impacted by racial and economic injustice, to cope with these contradictions of festival culture on their own. And so, I put it out there for people to take in, miss, or dismiss on their own. Some people entered with enthusiasm and gratitude for being real and true to the theme, others twisted their faces at the un-festival-like reality-bombs they walked into and most just walked by knowing what was there but staying focused on the blissful escape that West Coast festivals provide.
I am an artist-activist who no longer lets cultural norms prescribe my identity or actions, even at top rated boutique music festivals. It matters that I was there doing this work to share stories of gold mining and resistance here and in Latin America. But mostly, I did this so I could fully enjoy Bass Coast by being true to myself and dancing so hard that I could feel Pachamama, the universe and my ancestors dancing along with me.
For those who did not get a chance to see, More Dignity, Less Digging, at Bass Coast, an online version will be available soon.
I would like to express huge amounts of gratitude to friends who showed great support in the manifestation of the installation: Conrad Schmit and Rita Wong who generously sponsored materials and equipment; Pia Massie, Mia Amir, Harriet Wilder and Merlyn Chipman for being excellent sounding boards; Ostwelve, Rup Sidhu, Sakura Sounders and Samuel Stime, for producing critical featured content for this project; and Lianne Payne who provided research, transportation, installation support and was the key accomplice in this creative intervention. You made it possible for me to make this happen. Gracias amigxs!