KAAT BYRD: How did your story with the bees begin?
MEESHA GOLDBERG: I got my first love sting in fifth grade on my tongue while drinking out of a soda can. But my more recent infatuation began after watching the film “Queen of the Sun”, which really brought home how essential bees are to humanity and how urgent it is we act on their behalf. Several years later I got to attend a healing done by Sara Mapelli, who was featured in the film. She danced covered in bees as a group of us sat in a circle in a field, entranced.
KB: What is your focus and goal as a bee guardian?
MG: Over the past few years I’ve completed several paintings featuring bees, and throughout 2016 I worked on a project called Equilibrium Rites, which was in essence an artistic ceremony for the health of the 80 billion bees brought to the California almond monoculture for pollination. A group of us walked 100 miles through the monoculture talking to farmers and beekeepers, costumed and embodying the Melissae, ancient Greek priestesses of the bee. My focus has really been to contribute to the living historical culture that venerates the bee. Art has the capacity to inform cultural values, and it can do this through seduction. Seduction by beauty. Seduction by courage. I’ve wanted to arouse love for the bee, because what you love, you want to sustain, you want to protect.
KB: How does the local environment shape your work?
MG: Bees abound. I plant for them, speak to them, visit with them. But my work, through Equilibrium Rites, has shown me the virtue of local environments and the necessity of local economic and ecosystem sustainability. 85% of American commercial hives travel to the almonds on flatbed trucks, sustaining poor nutrition, injury, and exposure to pesticides and infection in the fields, which has contributed to the great losses we’ve seen. As for the almonds, 80% are exported oversees, and the high demand has led to the overplanting of 1 million acres in the desert, which is such a heavy drain on the water supply that towns are literally sinking and some towns can not drink the water from wells dug so deep they are overly salinated or tapped into deep underground arsenic. When nature is a for profit commodity regulated by the free market, exploitation will leave a wake of destruction because nature is not isolate, to be processed factory-like, it is a series of relationships that have evolved together through the aeons.
KB: What threatens your (work with the) bees and how do you work with these threats?
MG: My work has arisen because of the threat, because bees need human allies to speak on their behalf.
KB: What do you believe is the key element for a healthy and strong apiary?
MG: I don’t happen to be a beekeeper, however I’ve come to understand a pesticide free environment with diverse forage will do bees good. As my friend Laura Ferguson says, we need to move towards a bee-centric model, where we think from the bee’s point of view rather than solely from our own vantage point, our needs.
KB: What are you working on right now?
MG: I’m about to leave on a month long trip to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to join the water protectors and help stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Any way you slice it, we are on the edge of collapse. It is a hard truth to accept as the red flags are in far away war zones, at the earth’s poles, on reservations, in the toxic agricultural fields, in the prisons. Now is the time for courageous action on behalf of the earth.
KB: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
MG: The water protectors at Standing Rock are my inspiration at present. When there in September, I spoke with many people who vowed to stay at camp until the very end, until the pipeline is called off. They vowed to brave a winter of subzero nights and to face the brutality of the militarized police. That fire of courage and determination is what inspires me most these days. What is the water worth? What are the bees worth? What are the unborn worth? Despite the brutal face of humanity I believe the human project should continue, and the great kaleidoscopic fractal world of immeasurable life should flourish.
KB: Can you share one of your favorite bee stories?
MG: Preparing for my first bee painting, a portrait of my friend Joanna Brook covered in a swarm, we drove 2 hours east into the forest to enact a ritual for the bees on Beltane. We were deep in the wilderness by a flowing creek and a large campfire. I was setting up an altar in the north, and as I placed a piece of honeycomb upon it, a single bee immediately landed on the honeycomb, sat upon it for a minute, and flew away. No other bee returned. It was an inexplicable, wonderful moment. l view what happened during that trip as the catalyzing of a personal commitment to the bees that I will continue through my life, whether I’m working directly with them at the time or not. I’m a friend of the bees. And I’m immensely grateful for their constant work, which provides us with food, sweetness, medicine, and much mystery.
KB: A piece of advice for rookie bee guardians?
MG: Take the bee and the hive as your teacher.
To view some of Meesha’s paintings, check out her website: Equilibrium Rites