Art as protest: the cube that represents the looting of a mine in Sonora

A plaque in the middle of the Sonoran desert reads next to a bucket that lies under the sun. The plate says:

“Between 2010 and 2013, the Pelmont mining company illegally extracted 236,709 ounces of gold, according to its reports. To do this, he dynamited and moved 10,833,527 tons of stone. The judgment of the unitary agrarian court of the 28th district, issued on December 8, 2014, forces Pelmont to return the extracted gold, which would form a 70x70x70 cm cube and would have a value of 436 million dollars. Ejido El Bajio. February 2022. Erosion Archives”.

In the center of the pit created by the Pelmont mining company in its search for precious metals within the Ejido de El Bajío region, Natalia Mendoza and Miguel Fernández de Castro installed a bucket of compacted earth. The creators used “an ancient construction technique” as they describe, which is also inversely related to the mining extraction of the site. Thus, the miner dedicated herself to removing layer after layer of earth and the bucket was made by also placing layer after layer of earth.

An ejido, according to the Center for Social Studies and Public Opinion, is defined as “a community tenure and a community of peasants, who collectively own rights to the land.” The El Bajío ejido located between the municipalities of Caborca ​​and Puerto Peñasco in the Altar desert in Sonora has existed since 1971 and from the late 1990s, The Penmont mining company, a subsidiary of the Fresnillo Group formerly led by the recently deceased (in February 2022), Alberto Bailleres, occupied part of the ejido to search for precious metals.

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The ejido website ( explains that the occupation was illegal; although it ended in 2013 and, despite the fact that the ejidatarios asked the authorities for a resolution and even a sentence was issued against the mining company by former magistrate Manuel Loya Valverde in 2014, according to Pie de Página, the ruling has not been complied with.

Nor has the ecosystem been fully restored, or the gold returned, as Natalia Mendoza explained during an interview with Aristegui Noticias, “There is an ideal of absolute restoration” that includes the restitution of hills, water, fauna and flora. The sentence, which he calls “historic”, “very peculiar” and “unprecedented in Mexico” was one of the events that prompted Mendoza and Fernández de Castroboth originally from the state of Sonora, to elaborate the collection of pieces that they now exhibit in the New York space, Storefront for Art and Architecture under the shelter of their exhibition “The absolute restoration of things” (The Absolute Restoration of All Things).

Photo: Courtesy

Both residents of the municipality of Altar, a border area with Caborca, where the ejido in question is located, discovered that they work on the same issue from their own trenches. Mendoza as an anthropologist and Fernández de Castro as a visual artist. His interest in El Bajío sparked after a publication in the magazine Proceso that addressed the conflict with the Pelmont mining company. “From then on we have been in contact, we have visited El Bajío and the mine several times. There have been a series of different situations of murders, disappearances, recovery of the land, we have been following the process”, they explained.

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The devastation of the territory was caused by the mining works that were carried out in the ejido, commented Miguel Fernández de Castro. The damage is visible, there is a hole in the desert where before, and according to the numbers exposed by the artists, there were 11 million tons of earth that were removed in search of gold, the mining company obtained 236 thousand ounces of the metal.

In representation of the volume of gold, the artists elaborated said cube with dimensions of 70 centimeters on each of its sides. The premise of the cube, then, is to contrast the dimension of the devastation with the size of what has been mined; the disproportion. “What would it be like to return that gold? Where is that gold? What would it look like if it were all brought together and restored?”, the cube itself is a symbolic restitution, “a monument in place”, or even “an anti-monument”.

Photo: Courtesy

They say that currently the ejidatarios have control of the territory, otherwise they would not have been able to carry out the intervention in the pit. The recovery of the land was not a simple process, there were years of conflicts in which there were disappeared ejidatarios and “involvement of hired assassins,” Fernández de Castro specified. Who from his work, He received a threat, a message: “to tone it down,” he said.

The intention of the piece and exhibition, Mendoza said, is to address that the damage to the ejido is irreversible, it cannot be restored or repaired. Likewise, invite reflection on the historical point to which the restoration act and sentence refer, to which they mention that in addition to the desert ecosystem being one that remains “balanced but always on the verge of collapse”, the site it is ancestral Tohono O’odham territory.

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“What does the total restoration of things mean and to what historical point does it refer to going back? Everything gets complicated there, many things get complicated. What was it before? How can we know what it was before?

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