Tierra Firme Projects presents writing about land, histories of land use, contemporary land-based art, and multimedia projects made by intersectional artists (queer, women & people of color) that critique or deeply engage the image culture of land in the Americas. To expand on this mission, I offer these basic tenets:
At its most basic, land conjures geological associations, in this sense, the gritty and the elemental. It is quite simply an overarching definition for all that is earth, including the strata of rocks, minerals, water, and soil that subsist beneath our feet.
On the level of metaphor, land can connote sovereignty, an ethnic center, and a cosmological origin. For indigenous peoples most often, land is lifeline; it is connective. It’s what bridges past, present, and future generations to ancestors. Elders live in the land and land lives in the elders. In this way, identity is formed in relation to land, to its resources, yes, but also to its value as a shared realm amongst which generations reside.
Land is also, perhaps in most imaginations, the basis of and for a territorial claim. As real estate, land is real to the extent that it can be located, cut up, and divided with borders, fences, walls, and policies to match. Yet land divided is land abstracted. It is that which accrues exchange value, to become a commodity, bought and sold according to the whims of the market. In this sense, land not only gestures toward histories of possession and ownership, but also to dispossession and deterritorialization. Indeed, once divided, land, especially in the Americas, becomes subject to sale and seizure. It is, therefore, at the core of colonialism, and the creation of national and global empires. From this division of space, comes the division of people, creating ingroups and outgroups, natives and foreigners, identities forged not only through identification but through disidentification. Land, as in borderland, can signify a margin and liminal space. Following this line of thought, it can be racialized, gendered, and nationalized. It can also be razed and made to appear blank.
The term “land art” falls short of contemporary artists’ complex engagements with land and the many aforementioned connotations. For artists of color, women-identified and queer artists, land takes on altogether different cultural, political and religious meanings. Land is not simply a blank slate awaiting an artist’s imprint, but a layered space loaded with social and historical significance. Here, Tierra Firme Projects takes a queue from contemporary art that not only rejects the universal truths (misogynism, whiteness, and colonialism, namely) that defined the early land art movement of the 1960s and 70s, but also recognizes the political urgency of engaging histories of occupying space, especially by historically oppressed peoples.