For three years now, from early 2010 to late 2012, an urban garden has existed inside a squat called Quilombo das Guerreiras (Women Warriors Quilombo), based on agroecological principles. Essentially the result of a collective work, this great intervention is part of the lively scenery of a highly urbanized and careless place, the Francisco Bicalho Avenue, in the city center of Rio de Janeiro. The urban garden gained its own ecosystem, the plants sprouted and grew between the cobblestones boosting the force of life. For its creation, participants roamed paths as intuition and inspiration led them, and exposed the multiplicity of creative fields. Priscila Piantanida writes about the various artistic, environmental and educational dimensions of a work which, despite being arduous, was a powerful experience of motivation, learning and humility.
Quilombo is the word for a secret place for fugitive slaves, usually covered or hidden amid the woods. In the popular imagination, the association of quilombos is very common to something that is restricted to the past, and that have disappeared from the country with the end of slavery. But the truth is that the so-called quilombo communities exist in almost all Brazilian states. A survey of the Palmares Cultural Foundation, the Ministry of Culture, mapped 3,524 of those communities. According to other sources, the total number of remaining quilombo communities can reach five thousand.
In this case, ‘Quilombo’ is the name given to this squat, and ‘Women Warriors Quilombo’ in honor of the many women of this community.
Murray Bookchin said: “An ecological society must be non-hierarchical and classless, should even eliminate the concept of mastery of nature. The ecological society presupposes participatory forms of community bases.”
The necessity to research and share knowledge in sustainability and alternative techniques for planting and construction, often remains latent these days. It was during my graduation in Sculpture at the Fine Arts School in the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – together with other students from different areas – when I became interested in bio-construction. The students were always gathering in an area known as ‘grove’ (bosque), and looking for some way to start some action.
Thus, in 2006 we began in the easiest way: planting. Knowledge and techniques of agroecology and permaculture were being researched and worked on by us, showing that none of these movements exist in isolation. Habitat, plant, and build environmentally are interconnected processes. These actions have become practice in some areas of the campus.
As an art student, I realized that my artistic processes could not be separated from this ecological practice. As a sculptress, my first seduction was the material, and from it the creation of forms, volumes and spaces settings. In fact, materials such as clay, black land, junkyard, cement and plants attracted me. I began to think about the relationship of these materials with permaculture practices and then I ventured into build installations related to nature.
I was seduced by the work of the German sculptor, Joseph Beuys, and his concept of Social Sculpture, very evident in his work. This concept led to a thought expansion about traditional art, and was understood as a holistic process of knowledge. His concept of sculpture went beyond the physical object, to an understanding of politics, culture, education and social organization as a whole thing. With social sculpture, it would be possible to mold, to shape, to chisel the world and, because of this, the artist was very concerned with educational issues. For him, it was necessary to develop an artistic education of humanity, so that social change could take place satisfactorily. It was precisely in his teaching activities that Beuys made the better use of this type of sculpture.
In the final year before my graduation, I already had built sculptures that were related to the growth of plants; and installations that have life and movement. I had also experienced and investigated agroforestry systems and incorporated these into my artistic processes.
It was in this context, that I was invited by two friends to act in the squat of the ‘Quilombo das Guerreiras’, to think about the implementation of an urban garden. Synchronously, arriving in the squat I met Cida Guerreira (‘guerreira’ means ‘woman warrior’). Cida was already thinking about creating a garden with the children and adolescents of the squat, and she was also studying and practicing agroecology.
Little School of Gardening
It was challenging because the most favorable place to begin was the ground floor area outside the building – an old car park covered with cobblestones – facing the avenue Francisco Bicalho between the Leopoldina and the principal bus station (Novo Rio) in the city. In that place, there had been spontaneous plants growing between the stones, tall bushes and a lot of waste ground. The construction of the urban garden was based on agroecological principles with observation of the plantation area, composting processes, reading of texts, and conversations. It was the beginning of the “Little School of Gardening” named by children living in the squat, a weekly daytime activity where the stimulus of the importance of the environment was widely experienced. Once a month, a collective effort (mutirão) was also carried out in the space.
Another important activity was the removal of cobblestones that covered the entire old parking territory. This work required strength and was cheerfully employed by some small children who had fun when handling the tool ‘pry bar’.
We modified the scenery. We developed a suspended irrigation system with plastic bottles, and embellished the space, painting, hanging seeds and building puppets that served as scarecrows. Along with this work, numerous materials and objects such as land, plants, cobblestones, wires, containers, vases, rebar, sheet metal, bottles and canvas were unearthed.
We build new logical and resistance tactics to maintain dialogue between us – think, dialogue, practicing, cooperate. We start with the composting process and in parallel, planting and harvesting pumpkins, beans (pork, black-eyed and pigeonpea), and different vegetables like cabbage, lettuce and mustard. We can identify the different spontaneous species: Bengal Dayflower, Purslane, Nut grass, ”Grass Colonial”, Nightshade and Beggarticks.
We built a spiral gantry of medicinal herbs with “Boldão”, “Bilberry-from–Chile”, Mint, Lemongrass and Lemon Balm. We invested in Cassava, Sweet potato and Corn, but those did not develop because the ground was too hard. We added to the fruit trees already grown: Hose, a Guava tree and Almond tree, other species such as Avocado, Passionfruit and Papaya. We increased the soil with green fertilizer (lab-lab, crotalaria and “cosmos”). We also planted in improvised pots, various cactaceous and ferns and were surprised by “wind chayote” and “san caetano melon”, that appeared without being planted.
We consecrate community lunches and parties dedicated to our harvests, and have pumpkin and beans parties. Also fun and games, interviews, karaoke and videos sessions! These stimulating community activities enabling new theoretical and methodological constructions to aid us in walking in the direction of emancipatory knowledge.