How Peru’s potato museum could stave off world food crisis
A selection of the thousands of native potato varieties that grow in Peru. Photograph: The International Potato Centre.
Dear Åsa Sonjasdotter,
I hope these thoughts find you well-rested.
I haven’t had the pleasure to meet you in person but I believe you saw my hand the other day among the seated crowd in a semi dark auditorium in Aarhus, Denmark. Yes, that was my hand…the one that was raised in the final moments of the conference Talking Change – Towards a Sustainable Art World which you were part of as a speaker. Unfortunately, I was not given the word as I was a last-minute Q&A enthusiast. Anyhow, perhaps it is my fault for seating that far away from the stage, I guess I’m somehow much more of a shy listener than I first thought. For my part, there was and still is a vibrant desire to exchange views with you and others in that room, especially when for the most part I was the only person of color seating in that room among a predominantly white European audience. That made me want to insert some other perspectives and nuances into the conversation but time was not on my side. Then I thought, I might as well just write some things down here and hope these thoughts will help to initiate a thought-provoking dialogue with you and others.
During your great presentation, there were many things that caught my attention but, I couldn’t help thinking about one particular thing and that was when you mentioned how the potato helped to feed the French Revolution (1789). It led me to a perhaps unconventional line of thought that I’d like to share with you. As I see it throughout history, the potato has played the role of a life-enabler and it has been part of the aestheSis of many revolutions (e.g. The American Revolution) and wars (e.g. World War I) prior to the French Revolution, assuring the survival of millions of Europeans and other people of Earth. Now, minutes into your presentation, you introduced decolonial concepts and thinkers as Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vázquez who studies serve as a reminder of how important it is to remember that the potato is one of Europe’s main colonial imports together with gold and human slavery from the second half of the 1500s.
If we dare to revisit the history of the French Revolution and what were the causes that triggered it, we will find that the State proposal to introduce a wealth tax to the then French aristocracy shook things up in an unprecedented way. It gave fuel to a revolution and became of course, for better or for worse, an emancipatory opportunity to move away from Feudalism. The French found themselves in a rare moment to redesign their country’s political landscape, uprooting centuries-old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. Most importantly, their revolution had an incredible impact across the Globe.
But, here is what I find fascinating, I believe the climate crisis encountering and overlapping with other contemporary life-jeopardizing issues have created similar conditions than which characterized the French Revolution more than 200 years ago. Perhaps Governments know this very well, it’d then become a reasonable explanation for why they are so scared about introducing wealth tax to our nowadays tech and data-aristocracy. We are not facing Feudalism but an even more oppressive system, we are finally confronting the core of Capitalism. As a side note, please let’s not forget that the potato has always been part of the revolution so, I’d argue we should be better equipped for the upcoming one. My belief is that it is not enough to decolonize, but as well important to decapitalize, degrowth and slow down, but damn, we (at least some of us) are reluctant to take action until we put together a perfect plan. That paralysis is on us.
Perhaps the key is in transformative realism, an urgent and realistic utopia for the present, and for us to understand that the revolution is coming if we decide to give a rumpled birth to it. Our most radical self-organized gesture in anticipation of that might be that we (artists and everyone else) all go to plant and harvest potatoes whilst we do what we so passionately like to do, art. The way I see it, the so-called Global South has given already the necessary ‘protein’ to the Global North to carry out the revolution and stop being in compliance. Yes, a revolution might get ugly and it will, but we will make it through like history has shown us every time it comes back to bite our asses and drop an insightful reminder.
We as in the self-organized arts sector need to rethink these partial and temporary fixes that we so fiercely advocate for, and to do no more unambitious bargains in order to partially tackle, among other things, our lack of rest, our exploitation, economic and climate injustice, and more (I don’t mean to diminish how essential they are). We need to be aware that the funding of the art system in Scandinavia comes as a direct consequence of the Nordic Model. A group of welfare states that in plain sight still build and sustain their economies on highly extractive and noxious forms of neoliberal Capitalism, and therefore cannot be a long-term sustainable model. The current socio-economic framework is both unable and refuses to reflect artistic value produced by artists in fair monetary terms. I believe none of our current strategies will change that drastically, we need to reset, we need to get out of our comfort zone and dare to alter not only perspectives but action and history. The Global North needs to take non-violent yet firm action and it needs to do it now before it is too late.
With appreciation and care,