Agriculture, Gender, and Sustainability in Costa Rica
Photographs by Lucia Madriz
INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN: Why did you decide to explore questions of gender in your artwork?
LUCIA MADRIZ: For me it was inevitable because as I went into puberty I noticed that my male friends and people who were not very close to my family expected specific behaviors and reactions that were not part of my personality. It was also very clear to me that there were [gender] differences because I have a brother that is 6 years older than me and all of a sudden I had to assume certain tasks at home while he did not. A few years later I felt that the radical differences between men and women were more the result of a tradition than a reality. I was interested in the gray areas as many of my acquaintances and I seemed to not fit into the stereotypes of what a man or a woman should be.
IMOW: How do you see biology and gender as affecting one's economic situation?
LUCIA MADRIZ: In many fields women are considered a problem. On one hand some feel that women will leave work at any time either because they will get married or because they are pregnant and will need to take care of the children. On the other hand in Costa Rica women earn less than men with the same qualifications, even though in Costa Rica women are better educated than men.
Changes to this kind of discrimination will only come through laws requiring equal pay regardless of sex.
IMOW: What are your thoughts on the social constructs and the division of labor between men and women in Costa Rica?
LUCIA MADRIZ: People tend to live with their parents for a long time, partially because wages in Costa Rica are pretty bad in relation to the cost of living. This situation makes young adults (especially men) slow to develop responsibilities like laundry, cooking, or cleaning the house. This is reflected in couples when they decide to marry or live together. Many young men know that women expect them to undertake domestic tasks as well. But when man is the one bringing money into the house it is assumed that a woman must "pay with the chores of the home."
As long as chores are considered a product of economic exchange, women will continue to be trapped in the same circle. Household chores such as the care of children and the sick must be assumed by both men and women. Even when women do not work outside the home, it is not about an economic exchange but a state of maturity where one recognizes a need and does what is necessary in order to resolve it. These are values that must change and this must begin with our own attitudes in our private lives.
IMOW: How did your grain installations come into place?
LUCIA MADRIZ: I was exploring gender issues through my work, doing video performances, paintings and photographs. When I was working on gender issues I was trying to understand which aspects of "being a woman" were social constructions or biological myths, or biological facts and if we as individuals could escape any of them. Economics and work division became an important issue for me. So in 2003 I made my first installation with grains, called Money Talks, where I enter the scene with a broom and start brushing the installation. It referred to social class, work division and food.
IMOW: Why did you use a broom? What is the importance of sweeping?
LUCIA MADRIZ: What I found important when performing Money Talks was making use of the popular Spanish phrase "earning your rice and beans," and trying to establish how domestic work relates to social class. I used the phrase Money Talks in English and in cursive lettering because many people who speak English belong to the upper class and had access to a better education. A maid doesn't have much education or job opportunities, and her work is poorly paid and considered worthless and unimportant. She carries the stigma that her only opportunity for work is to clean other people's dirt. In the end, it is always a woman who does the dirty work.
IMOW: And how has your work progressed since Money Talks?
LUCIA MADRIZ: I did Copy Right after I found out about genetically modified organisms on the radio. This work refers to traditional agricultural practices versus transgenic seeds and how this creates an unsustainable and an economic model of complete dependency. Once farmers buy these seeds, they are obliged to buy and use only chemicals provided by the sellers, and they have to return the seeds every year to buy new ones. These genetically modified crops use at least 25% more chemicals than regular crops. This situation affects the soil fertility and pollutes waterbeds, and we end up eating the product.
In Costa Rica we have consumed genetically modified organisms in our foods since the early 90's: imported rice and corn from US. If it is so good and harmless why don't we read it in the package?
Most people don't know what GMO means and we are feeding ourselves and our family with them. And what are the consequences? There is not much money for investigation. Some scientists say it is too early to say.
One of the arguments for GMO is to stop starvation. The problem is not to produce more food; the problem is the people who are dying every day of hunger don't have the money to buy food today or tomorrow. So hunger is not a problem that is going to be solved with the creation of patented seeds that belong to huge multinational corporations, hunger is the result of many factors, some of them environmental but definitely a result of the economic voracity of the developed countries, the way our culture establishes consumerism and individualism as their values and how the most powerful nations and transnational industries don't care.