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Solidaritetsbrigade i Chiapas, Mexico 2005. Koordinator for solidaritetsbrigadene 2012-2016.

Zapantera Negra – et møte i Chiapas, og viktigheten av uavhengige media

Zapantera er navnet på møtet mellom zapatistene, en urfolksbevegelse – og territorium – I Chiapas, helt sør i Mexico, på grensa til Guatemala, med de svarte pantrene – the Black Panther Party, fra USA. Dette var et møte gjennom kunst, det vi si, kunsten la grunnlaget for flere samtaler om autonomi, selvråderett og rasisme. Fra The Black Panther Party deltok den tidligere kulturministeren Emory Douglas, personen bak mange av de ikoniske uttrykkene til de svarte pantrene. Jeg var med Emory til zapatistenes autonome område, Caracol 4 – Morelia. Vi var der for å male, men også for å dele samtaler, og på en skakk trebenk inne på zapatistenes egen skole fikk jeg intervjue Emory.

Intervjuet ble publisert i det uavhengige journalistkollektivet Subversiones hvor jeg bidro i flere år. Uavhengig media – og ikke det rotet av alternative media vi har i dag – utgjorde en viktig del av kommunikasjonen da, og fremdeles i dag så er det å bygge egne media en viktig del av den sosiale bevegelsen. Jeg hadde aldri lært med å lage radio selv – eller å skrive – hadde det ikke vært for møtet med både zapatistenes og utallige andre medios comunitarios.

Her er intervjuet fra 28. november 2012:

ZAPANTERA Negra: Rebel Panthers in the zapatista jungle

The Black Panther Party is one of the most important movements against the historical discrimination of black people in the US and around the world. Inspired by the discourse and the words of Malcolm X and Franz Fanon, they confronted the racist government in the US.

The man behind the graphics and the iconography of the Black Panthers was the Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas. Here he is, smiling as always, sitting on a crooked wooden bench inside the school building in one of the autonomous Zapatista municipalities (MAREZ), belonging to caracol IV Torbellino de Nuestras Palabras. Emory has traveled here to take part in the encounter called Zapantera Negra: Rebel Zapatistas meet the Black Panthers.

I will start with a simple question: What are you doing here, Emory?

– They invited me for an artistic residence for two weeks during November in the Cultural Centre EDELO (En Donde Era La ONU – where the United Nations Used to Be) in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. As part of my stay, I was planning to go to the Zapatista communities to do graphic works. This is my first time here. It was a comrade called from Edelo who invited me after we met in San Francisco. The proposal was to come here as an artist in residence in a cultural space, paint in the Zapatista communities, and make a mix of my art, some old posters, and the art of young people in Chiapas. This was how my old posters were re-made by comrades from here, not painted, but as embroideries. We made an exhibition from this called “I am We” where the theme was reflected in the displayed embroideries that several Zapatista women collectives created by taking and remixing seven of my art images and using Zapatista expressions and interpretations. This work has impressed me, it is genius, and for me to see that my work can inspire new ones, fills me with love.

During the work with the Black Panthers, Emory Douglas was a revolutionary artist and part of the national leadership of the party. He made countless artworks for the social struggle, and he illustrated the day-by-day struggle of the black people in the neighborhoods in the US. His illustrations, cartoons, and drawings were published in the official newspaper of the Panthers. He has never viewed himself as a protagonist of any struggle in his time or later. His friend and artistic companion, Rigo 23 from Portugal, describes the art and work of Emory as “a combination of the times of institutional slavery with contemporary police reality” … “like the sounds of the slums, Emory’s drawings are always loaded. Full of life, serene and fierce”. His posters and drawings are very diverse and the style has changed over the years. He drew the black panther that later became one of the strongest symbols of the party’s struggle, and which to date remains one of the best known and important symbols of the Black Panthers. The black panther was painted both at EEDELO and on the murals that were made as a collective effort in the autonomous school in the MAREZ 17 de Noviembre

Muralistas in Morelia

Among the 17 people that accompany Emory in 17 de Noviembre you find artists that are committed to the struggle from the left and below in Mexico, and in the world. There are comrades from EDELO and young artists from the highlands and the jungle in Chiapas. Here we are all artists, and we are experiencing an idea that was important to Emory during his time in the newspaper of the Panthers: each one, teach one. This is also the foundation of the social and organizational base of the Zapatistas (BAZ). Surrounding the crooked wooden bench in the center of the auditorium, people mix paint, project words on a wall, or paint poles in different colors from the top of a ladder. Others are on the ground making new proposals: to perhaps not paint all of the poles in the same color, but rather to make something more harmonic? All opinions and proposals are valid and Emory gives a smile to everyone. The young people from the school contribute withdrawings, interpretations of their own struggle, and the rebel Zapatista communities. From the loudspeakers, we hear music put on by Emory: the voice of Tigi Ness, who was the Minister of Culture of the Polynesian Panther Party. Tigi Ness is a musician and Emory gets up to walk around and dance a little too “I was born in the city, raised in the streets, had religion in my system, was poisoned in my sleep … the factory was my future, the ghetto was my grave. Look at me now» from the album Froom street to the sky.

What is your connection with the Zapatista movement?

– My connection with the Zapatistas has to do with solidarity. The solidarity with their struggle for basic human rights. This is the tangible relationship we have between them and the Black Panthers, although the two fights are from different times. The Zapatistas started to organize when the Black Panther Party began to dissolve. In 1981 the party came to an end, but it is in the spirit of what it symbolically represents that the relationship between the struggle of the Black Panthers and the Zapatista struggle of today is created.

What is the strongest connection between the struggle of the Black Panther Party and the Zapatista struggle?

The two struggles focus on self-determination. The act of fighting to determine and decide on your own destiny and the destiny of the community. The struggles are about the development of our own social order, programs, and institutions, and of course, what unites us too, is the struggle and resistance against the repressive state. The situation in Chiapas has been, and is, worrying. Here we are in a militarized zone, not only by the Mexican army but also by armed groups and paramilitary groups. In the jails of Chiapas, there are fellow Zapatistas imprisoned, and repression and counterinsurgency policy are very present. The party of the Black Panthers also suffered a lot of repressions in its time and still today has its political prisoners.

What message can you give in this respect?

– Repression is something universal. There will always be aggression against people who are in opposition to an unjust system. Political prisoners are a problem around the world. We still have people in jails who were in the party. They are prisoners from the 60s and 70s, more than forty years ago! Of course, there is a connection between us due to the shared experiences of repression and political prisoners.

Has there been a direct relationship between the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas before?

– Not a direct relationship, but we have always been informed by the people who are connected to both the US and Chiapas. People who have spread the Zapatista word and the situation in which they find themselves.

What are you doing today?

– We continue the fight against the repression of the state. We, those of us who remain and to date can move around and breathe, continue in the same fight. We continue with our meetings to honor our legacy and pass it on to the youth, who are interested in our history. Personally, I travel a lot to give talks on the history, and historical struggle of the party, through the artwork I did during the time of the party

Do you think that your intervention with the art of the Zapatista struggle can make more people aware of a struggle that for many has been “forgotten” in recent years?

– Oh yeah! Definitely. I want to continue researching the struggle and the history of the Zapatista people and incorporate it into my artistic work. I hope to be able to return soon, and I’m sure I will bring the Zapatista word to my talks and exhibitions and tell people about my visit and the deep mark it has left on me. What I see here in Chiapas is something in development, something that is growing step by step in its own time, but they are very determined steps. What I see is a process that is happening here and now. Among the plans for the Zapantera Negra encounter is the production of a magazine with the same name. It has not yet been published, but the idea of the group of artists around the EDELO is to launch the magazine in five countries, to be downloaded and reproduced from an internet page. The magazine will be developed with Emory’s guidance and will serve as a contemporary tribute to his work.

Going back to the crooked bench with Emory, one last question. He is already a little restless, wanting to take a brush and join the muralist forces.

How do you see the current situation in the US? What do the young people you meet in your talks tell you?

– We currently have a strong resistance in the US due to the economic crisis. Not just a crisis, but a total collapse of the economic system. So there are many people who are interested in developing alternative programs, such as the programs that emerged during the time of the Panthers. These were social programs that were proposed by the party and also implemented where we could. Now there are people who want the return of these programs, but of course, the times we live in now are more complicated than those times.

The Zapantera Negra struggle

The Black Panthers program and platform were launched in October 1966: What We Want and What We Believe. Among the things that were demanded was freedom: freedom to determine the destiny of their own black community, including work, decent housing, and an education “that reveals the true nature of this decadent society (…), an education that teaches us true history and our role in today’s society”. In 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) came out of the jungle armed, fighting for the demands of freedom, democracy, justice, work, shelter, food, land, and education.

The night is coming to Morelia. Inside the auditorium, a couple of spotlights help the patient muralists. Emory is among them. Coffee and beans are shared in the mist outside the community kitchen of the school. Going up to the auditorium again, we can hear the students from the school sing:

Listen all governments

Those who are destroying the world

enough of so much injustice

enough of the fucking government that steals

from us

the cities are already bored

of unfulfilled promises

men, children, women and the elderly

the time has come to wake up

united we can achieve

to color the world

we want the world to change

only united we can change

we will fight against evil

offering our life fighting

and that’s why we tell everyone

until death is necessary (…)


The new Zapatista generations receive the legacy of the word and the struggle of their parents, people who fought in the war, of their Zapatista great-grandparents, of their ancestors who were crushed during history by a colonial and racist power. We recall an old slave song claimed by The Black Panthers connecting the history of oppression with the struggle of contemporary black people:


We are soldiers of an army

We must fight, it does not matter to die.

We must raise the bloody flag

we must raise it to death.

My mother was a soldier.

She had in her hands with

which to plow freedom

and growing old and when

she couldn’t fight anymore

she said she would fight anyway.

My father was a soldier.

He had in his hands with which to plow freedom

and getting old when he couldn’t fight anymore

he said he would fight anyway.

Now we are all soldiers

we have in our hands with

 more to plow freedom

and getting old and not being able

to fight anymore

We will have to rise up and fight anyway

Teknikk og materiale:

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