The Big Picture: The Beehive Design Collective and the Art of Resistance
by Kendra Cooper
At the intersection of art and activism, you’ll find The Beehive Design Collective. They are an activist collective made up of about 10–15 anonymous volunteers who collaborate to create pieces of art that tell true stories of resistance against capitalism, colonialism, oppression, and injustice all over the world. Their drawings are heavily metaphorical, with each image reflecting multiple layers of the story.
Last week I attended their Art of Resistance Tour in Kelowna, British Columbia, at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art. Their work was beautifully displayed on tapestries that stretched from ceiling to floor. The detail was astonishing.
Sometimes the big picture is difficult to see from an essay or article. Being able to view the story right in front of your eyes, with all the parts and sections in great detail, can put things into perspective in a way that no string of words ever could. Along with these incredible works came an insightful lecture explaining each section of the illustration.
This isn’t armchair artwork. Much of what the collective does is gather stories straight from the grassroots by having those directly affected by the exploitation consult their work, and help them filter out any misrepresentations, subtle racism, stereotypes, or Eurocentric views. Their stories and experiences are at the heart of this art. It doesn’t stop there; the collective also takes into consideration the thoughts and ideas of those looking at a finished work, keeping the artistic process completely open and collaborative.
The completed image reflects acts of solidarity during times of resistance, while representing an act of solidarity in itself by sharing knowledge and telling the stories that often go unheard. The images weave into each other, showing everything from the acts of resistance on the ground, to the large economic powers responsible for increased poverty and oppression. Animals and plants are used as metaphors so that they can represent the story on different levels, while at the same time helping the viewer identify with what the animal is doing rather than with what they look like. Ants are the underestimated but powerful strength of the people, and bees are the pollinators who work hard and spread the word.
They keep the work licensed under the creative commons (CC), which means that it is open to be used by people to build upon in their own grassroots activism. The art isn’t closed as private property in copyright. This keeps the art living and the story breathing.
The Beehive Design Collective combines the importance of storytelling with the power of art to help us visualize justice. They tour towns and universities with voices of hope and power drawn into their illustrations.