How Does an Artist Work with the Educational System?
Tequio, Dialogue, and Situated Indigenous Knowledge in the Practice of Daniel Godínez Nivón

How do we challenge hegemonic knowledge systems? Which systems, techniques, languages, and methods allow us to describe what surrounds us, and to learn from? These are central questions in this issue of the journal. And this essay, by Krisztián Gábor Török, examines how Daniel Godínez Nivón localizes knowledge as a collective thinking and experience process through tequio – a nonformal, noninstitutional, participatory, communal collective working method from Indigenous communities in Mexico.

Krisztián Gábor Török — Mrz 15, 2021

Akademie Schloss Solitude - How Does an Artist Work with the Educational System? <br>Tequio, Dialogue, and Situated Indigenous Knowledge in the Practice of Daniel Godínez Nivón

Kazá project by Amauta García and Daniel Godínez Nivón, Detail of La Casa del Agua, Video Full HD, 6:42 Min, 2019 – 2020.

Tequio is communal collective work in Indigenous communities in Mexico, especially the Mixtecan-Zapotecan groups from Oaxaca. The word comes from the Nahuatl term tequitl (work or tax), which was labor forced on Mexico’s Indigenous groups during colonial rule. The Indigenous communities redefined this unpaid labor to specific social services in which men over sixteen were involved. Today, in Oaxaca, this practice has become a political statement as well. In the original ethnic zones, it is used to transform family work to a wider social and infrastructural network. The migrant population in cities also use it to affirm community identities through different media outlets.1 Those who migrated to the US still participate in tequio, connecting with their community, organizing social events, and sharing their experiences as migrants. In practice, tequio refers to a working method in which community members provide skills that are useful to the community in exchange for others. It is an assembly model that enables them to stand up as a collective body through democratic decision-making. It allows experimental education through daily practice, that members of the social assemble learn from experience.

The anthropologist Tim Ingold thinks the first place to find education is not in pedagogy, but in participatory practices that happen through experience.2 Ingold, in his book Anthropology as/and Education, discusses how we should not understand education as the transmission of knowledge but rather communication between practitioners. Communication should be understood as a practice of commons, that is to establish commonalities between both sides in the educational process. Commoning can’t happen without variation, as without differences between individuals; it would only return to a baseline identity. According to Ingold, variation allows the establishment of a shared social environment »[…] in which everyone has something to give precisely because they have nothing in common.«3 We can find variations and a common language through correspondence and storytelling to reconsider our thinking’s epistemological boundaries and bring together the practitioners’ existential stakes. What Ingold defines as variation’s role in the shared social environment of education is could be understood as a form of tequio.

The socially engaged educational practice of Daniel Godínez Nivón uses many participatory practices, mixing them with different Indigenous knowledge production and organizational methods, especially tequio. Godínez Nivón’s more than decade-long project Tequiografías was made in collaboration with the Assembly of Indigenous Migrants (AMI) in Mexico City, which consists of four ethnic groups: Zapoteco, Mixteco, Triqui, and Mixe. Although the artist’s grandparents were part of the Zapoteco tribe and migrated to Mexico City, he was not aware of tequio as collaborative thinking and collaboration, similar to many Indigenous migrant families. They never thought of their language, or their costumes. The artist first started working with the group in 2008 without a clear conviction of what he wanted to work on. He tried to understand the role the artist can take in the Assembly’s life. His goal was to find a way to make tequio visible to others through art. While being with the group, Godínez Nivón took on his role in tequio, teaching drawing to the community, while he took part in their Assemblies. After working with the AMI for almost two years, the artist found a suitable way to contribute to social life.

Using Monografías escolares (school monographs), which are traditional didactic school materials in Mexico, he created Tequiografías with the group. Monografías and Tequiografías initially seem the same: they are on an A4 sheet that addresses specific topics through everyday life, cultural traditions, and historical events and show images on one side and a short explanatory text on the other. Teachers tell their students to buy them when learning about a specific topic, and they are widely accessible in stationery shops. Tequiografías differ in that they challenge singular narratives of monocultural production of knowledge presented by Monografías and highlights tequio as participatory, correspondence-based learning. They are published in Spanish and the four different Indigenous languages of the AMI Assembly. The images represent various aspects of the Indigenous community’s life and how they perceive the world. Each Tequiografía was made during the Assembly. Godínez Nivón made them, and the whole group created the images in dialogue with him, even their colors. It’s important to state that the knowledge presented on each Tequiografía was not knowledge created by the artist; he only gave form to what was already present through his process.

»Godínez Nivón’s working method has two key elements: first, he confronts the hegemonic structure of knowledge by bringing nonrational knowledge into the education system. (…) Through the second element in Godínez Nivón’s working method, he expands the visibility for the Indigenous situated knowledge production through communication that happens as an outcome of the educational process. He creates a context-specific response in medium and format to each of his projects.«

Working with the group and attending the Assembly, the artist took part in tequio as an educational process similar to the inference between commoning and variation that Ingold understand as education. Through this method using Tequiografías, Godínez Nivón gave a platform to tequio as localized knowledge of the AMI, both as collective thinking and as a working process. Later on, Godínez Nivón spoke with the nearby stationery store to sell Tequiografías and convinced elementary school directors and teachers to use them in their teaching. The artist made the Ministry of Public Education adopt Tequiografías in Indigenous teachers’ work in some states in Mexico. Godínez Nivón gave agency to Indigenous knowledge through Tequiografías, turning them into what Donna Haraway calls situated knowledge by directly confronting the official education system through these objects.4 After this project, Godínez Nivón made tequio part of his work. Although he does not claim to practice tequio, it became an ethical way for him to move in and through life, to collaborate and create with others. For Godínez Nivón, there is continuous learning from and with others through the mode of Assembly, which he learned from tequio. His process is not necessarily a trajectory of bettering a craft or success; instead, it is about becoming more aware of the multicultural tools one can access in their context.

Tequiografías meet with the hegemonic system of education through modes of dissemination. How does Godínez Nivón use the situated knowledge of Indigenous communities in Mexico’s official school system? For him, the school serves three functions: a place of tension, the discovery of experiences, and legitimization. According to him »it is not the system of education that is the major flaw, but we should change people’s ethics and intensions within them.«5

Akademie Schloss Solitude - How Does an Artist Work with the Educational System? <br>Tequio, Dialogue, and Situated Indigenous Knowledge in the Practice of Daniel Godínez Nivón

Daniel Godínez Nivón, Essay on Oneiric Flora, 2020. Scientific illustration by Marco Antonio Pineda. Mixed media.

In his project Oneirical Propaedeutic (2017) the confrontation that created situated knowledge happened through bringing Indigenous epistemologies directly into the educational circuit. During the two-and-a- half-year period of participatory work, Godínez Nivón worked with twelve teenage girls at the Yolia orphanage in Mexico City. He was invited to do an art piece through an art foundation that had previously done workshops in the building. Tequio was the initial inspiration for the work. The question was how to bring a group of individuals together by understanding tension through communication. Through a series of participatory process and workshops, Godínez Nivón established a commoning and variations between the students. After trying out many different practices, later in the process, the artist introducted the idea of dream propaedeutic. Learning through dreams emerged when he created the Teqiuografia on health. He met with a group of midwives from the triqiu tribe in Oaxaca, the only matriarchal society within Mexico. These women learned about their healing practice through dream propaedeutic. Using the midwives’ Indigenous teaching and learning method, primarily based on meditative exercise, he organized dream workshops with the girls; consisting of regular meetings at Yolia on Sunday, and a weekly collective dream encounter on Wednesday night. Godínez Nivón found it essential to introduce the girls to the midwives’ role as »women of knowledge, women of power, their sensitivity with their strategies.«6

»The flaws of Mexican education, mostly present in rural Indigenous schools and how they communicate, are represented in the school system. Within the idea of a progressive country that the Mexican state has long tried to implement, these groups are often portrayed as backward.«

After six months, the dream process proved fruitful, as each participant started to dream of flowers, which became their common language. They began to work on the relationship between plants and dreams, and the plants soon lost their resemblance to reality. The students shared their experiences and Godínez Nivón got different experts on board from various fields as biology, agronomy, and botany. Eventually, the dream workshop turned into something that was not just about dreams, but situated knowledge of midwifery; the healing process was confronted with scientific and academic narratives of expertise. Through his instigation, the artist managed to bring scientists from the university into the process. The scientific establishment engaging with the plants found in girls’ dreams is a subversive act against productivity that is so often valued in hegemonic education

The eventual outcome of the work was I remember the day I was born. Will be tomorrow, a poem documentary about a sculpture garden that will last for 5,000 years, made after the girls’ dream flowers on the mountain Iztaccíhuatl (a Nahuatl word that means »sleeping woman«). The girls can see the mountain from Yolia’s roof, where they looked at it while »moon bathing.« Godínez Nivón held some of the last dream workshops on the roof (he’d commissioned a staircase so the girls could access it safely). The garden was created to close the project; the art faculty’s students made the sculpture together as per the girls’ instructions. The documentary functions as a dream sequence about how the girls’ dream flowers transformed into sculptures. In the beginning, the students fall asleep on the roof only to wake up in the mountains and find the clay flowers to organize them into a garden. In the background, a collectively created poem with the same title as the film is read out by a participant. The film does not show every element of the process, but communicates through poetry.7

Kazá, formerly known as Bede, is a collaborative project between Daniel Godínez Nivón and fellow artist Amauta García. The two have been working with schools around the state of Guanajuato through experimental educational processes since 2015.8 In the region, for many students and parents, Indigeneity is part of oppression, and many families would not teach their own culture, nor would students want to learn about it. Misión de Arnedo was seen by outside locals as a »witches’ town« due to the women’s healing qualities and botanical knowledge in the area. Many of the students felt distanced from Indigenous culture due to this negative subjugation. As he did at Yolia in his educational process, Godínez Nivón often invites local experts to hold classes during his workshops. To subvert the negative image, García and Godínez Nivón invited healer women to the school so the students can see that their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers have »hands that could heal.«9 By directly addressing the community’s tension, the artist dismantled the idea of the witches as »other« and legitimized the Indigenous situated knowledge through the school system.

The flaws of Mexican education, mostly present in rural Indigenous schools and how they communicate, are represented in the school system. Within the idea of a progressive country that the Mexican state has long tried to implement, these groups are often portrayed as backward. In school, real indignity is never connected to the contemporary population but to the glorified, pyramid-building Maya and Aztec past. Children working in the fields are always understood as negative. The education system fails to recognize other learning methods that can happen through these processes and what children can learn about their environment.10 The daily reality of many Indigenous communities has been severely affected by the escalating climate crisis. This requires promoting Indigenous situated knowledge within schools to fight against these environmental threats.

Kazá finished each year with a documentary made by the artists focusing on a specific aspect of life in the schools, with a gradual shift in focus toward rituals and practices around the cultivation of nature. As the region of the Sierra Gorda mountain range in Guanajuato has been hit by continuous years of drought due to the long-lasting effect of the now-closed mining industry, the documentaries recently took a poetic turn. La Casa del Agua (2019) tells the story about water’s birth; how it searches for a home as a comet flying in space. Eventually, it lands on Earth where it brings life and prosperity after which animals honor the »house of water« by offering something to it each year. The poem, documentary, and story were made through a participatory process by the children from the workshop at Miguel Hidalgo Elementary school in Misión de Arnedo. They created the costumes, choreography, and storyline, and wrote the short poem narrated in the film. As a preparation during the Assemblies that followed the tequio format, García and Godínez Nivón asked the children to write haikus inspired by Japanese ecopoetry, thinking about the local animals and plants and how these would give offerings to their environment. After writing the poems, the children each chose an animal and impersonated it, turning the Assembly into animals, not students. Connecting Haraway’s situated knowledge to posthumanist thinking is crucial in developing different ways of knowing by understanding how to connect with flora and fauna surrounding our local area, and bringing out more complex situated knowledge. The promotion of practices from another society, such as Japanese ecopoetry, does not ignore the idea of local-based experience. By introducing strategies from the outside that can be relatable in another context, the artist stimulated the students to relate to their surroundings and environment while developing new ways of thinking.

Where so far I have described the educational process that happens within shared social environments, I should discuss the role of sharing these experiences with a wider public and how it affects further Godínez Nivón’s artistic process. As José Miguel González Casanova writes, artists should not only be concerned with the production of artworks, but they should also be aware of other elements of their process, such as distribution and perception. However, these aspects are not necessarily in the central scope of most artistic processes. By considering these stages together, an artist can expand the field of visibility for the heterotopia art creates, through different communication forms.11

Godínez Nivón views the creation of an artwork as an honoring of the correspondence method; however, sharing an outcome does not occupy a highlighted spot in his process. He equally weights the three aspects highlighted by Casanova, and he has a deep understanding of the economic system that supports art and network where the dissemination of works occurs. Godínez Nivón’s working method has two key elements: first, he confronts the hegemonic structure of knowledge by bringing nonrational knowledge into the education system. He invited the triqui midwives to the teenage girls’ class to show different modes of female empowerment to the students. During the workshop he held at a high school in Guanajuato, students could learn from the experiences of healer women from the local community, to fight against the Indigenous students’ negative perception of their indignity. By bringing the knowledge already present in the community to the official school, the artist legitimized the situated knowledge in the students‘ eyes.

Through the second element in Godínez Nivón’s working method, he expands the visibility for the Indigenous situated knowledge production through communication that happens as an outcome of the educational process. He creates a context-specific response in medium and format to each of his projects. The artist balances the use of translation and poetic device in his work, depending on where it will be disseminated. By doing so, he empowers but does not fully expose the identity of the participants in his projects. The use of these two outcomes in his work depends on the artist’s primary audience for the work and how they will be utilizing it.

Tequiografías are traditional school materials that are not controlled by the Ministry of Public Education and are directly used by Indigenous schools as a didactic device for students to understand their heritage. The use of translation here was not for the hegemony to better appreciate its subject, but instead as an educational tool to fight against forgetting languages and presenting cultural diversity. The primary mode of distribution of these works was not through the art world, but through stationery shops. Although it would be false to state that these images are not aesthetic objects in themselves, their low price and wider availability escape the art market’s commodifying frame.

When the work is to be used in art institutional context, Godínez Nivón usually works with myth or mythmaking as a poetic device in different mediums. Iñigo Clavo talks about confessional ontology, the Western colonial desire for transparency, »where to know also involves a certain ownership of things, nature, and other humans – the Western fantasy for control, in this ontology, extracting secrets is an important part of maintaining power.«12 In response to this, Iñigo Clavo refers to Édouard Glissant’s idea of the right to opacity, that by maintaining a level of abstraction and not knowing, we can defend the incomprehensible.13  To communicate, Iñigo Clavo reaches for De Sousa Santos: we should use poetry as its the few places in Western modernity where opacity is validated.14 According to Tim Ingold referring to Foster, anthropological artwork should not be complicit in marking things and placing them into a context. This process will lead to further marginalization of the subject.15 By practicing the right to opacity, Godínez Nivón’s work steps forward from the artist ethnographer of the 1990s as he avoids identifying things through his use of poetry and symbolic meaning.  Both in the case of I remember the day I was born. Will be tomorrow (2017) and La Casa del Agua (2019/2020), Godínez Nivón utilized this right to opacity through the poem-documentary format. However, he does not fail to communicate and share something about and with the group he was working with. First, by creating a collective memory site through the film and the sculpture garden made out of dream flowers, he mythologizes the educational process. La Casa del Agua indirectly shows the way Kazá made the students engage and create new forms of situated knowledge by giving agency to flora and fauna as well as the environment of their region, through a self-made myth with the use of practices from outside the local knowledge, instigating new ways of thinking.

To answer my initial question about how artists can engage with the educational system, Godínez Nivón does this through communication and variation in participatory methods. Ingold understands education’s role in the same way. The artist understanding of tequio underlines the process as an ethical position, meaning that the common benefit gives a sense of belonging to one’s work and effort. His approach is based on the eagerness to wonder about something that one does not know. He arrives in each situation with a specific type of naivete and willingness to adapt to the group he works with. Godínez Nivón’s practice uses a poetic approach to instigate new modes of thinking and find tensions between different group members through dialogue, to imagine, through art, something that was not visible before. By creating assemblies, he realizes the tensions and common elements within a group. He aims for people to be invested in something already present or make a still-nonexistent or imaginary goal for them to invest in. Godínez Nivón’s work uses the official system of knowledge production and dissemination as schools, stationery shops providing teaching supplies, or art institutions to contrast objective situated knowledge with the monocultural hegemonic system using translation or poetry, depending on the situation. He pushes toward a multicultural education system where Indigenous knowledge is legitimized, as part of the official structure to legitimize their situated knowledge.

  1. Néstor García Canclini: »Tequiografías: Reimaginating Interculturality,« in: Visibleproject (blog),, (accessed February 11, 2021).

  2. Tim Ingold: Anthropology and/as Education. Abingdon, Oxon, New York 2017.

  3. Idem., p. 5.

  4. Donna Haraway: »Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,« in: Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988), pp. 575–99.

  5. Daniel Godínez Nivón interviewed by Krisztián Gábor Török, February 2021.

  6. Daniel Godínez Nivón: »Propedéutico Onírico/A Dream Propaedeutic – PSU Art & Social Practice,« Interview by Spencer Bryne-Seres, (accessed February 9, 2021).

  7. The project recently finished Essay on Oneiric Flora, 2019. The artist further collaborated with biological and computer energies to give life to the girls’ imagined plants through the digital. See »Ensayo de Flora Onírica – Daniel Godínez Nivón,«, (accessed February 12, 2021).

  8. The project that started at Miguel Hidalgo elementary school in San Ildefonso Cieneguilla with the Hñähñü Indiginous group later continued at the Miguel Hidalgo elementary school in Misión de Arnedo with the Uzá group.

  9. See note 5.

  10. María de Ibarrola Nicolín: »Los grandes problemas del sistema educativo mexicano,« in: Perfiles educativos 34, no. SPE (2012), pp. 16–28; Yolanda Jiménez Naranjo and Rosa Guadalupe Mendoza Zuany, »La educación indígena en México: una evaluación de política pública integral, cualitativa y participativa,« in: Liminar: estudios sociales y humanísticos 14, no. 1 (2016), pp. 60–72.

  11. José Miguel González Casanova: »Forum Arte Vida.« Mexico City 2003.

  12. María Iñigo Clavo: »Traces, Signs, and Symptoms of the Untranslatable,« (accessed February 12, 2021).

  13. Édouard Glissant: Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor 1997, p. 120.

  14. Bonaventura de Sousa Santos: Renovar la teoría crítica y reinventar la emancipación social. CLACSO, 2006, p. 39.

  15. See note 2, p. 65; Hal Foster: »The Artist as Ethnographer?« in: The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. Eds. G.E. Marcus and F.R. Myers, Berkeley 1995, pp. 302–09.