Alexandra Gelis

My Place

I was born in Venezuela and grew up by the Caribbean ocean in Cartagena, Colombia, so I am Colombian-Venezuelan. Throughout my life, I have moved frequently – to Puerto Rico, México, Panama, and finally 13 years ago to Canada where Toronto became my base.

But really the Global South is still my place and the Camera is what I call my Home. Following my family tradition in the arts, I have had a career in the visual arts from sculpture to painting to installation, but always with a camera in my hands. When I started travelling, I left only with my camera. Whether it was analogue or digital, 16mm film, DSLR or a drone, it was always a lens that allowed me to frame social issues. The camera is not only my frame but is also a medium to enter spaces and a tool to build new relationships with the human and non-human.

My Passion with Food

It was the call of the plants that brought me to food. Food that is about connections, that echoes with the concept of comida, with food’s broader political, economic, and social meaning. Travelling has been fundamental to my life and it’s often plants that invite me to new places, people and practices.

My multi-media work has focused on the relationship between people and plants, both historically (through colonization) and currently (through globalization). I create non-fiction videos and films by reading landscapes and the politics of spaces, often directed by the plants that call me. I prefer to bring the media tools to communities through workshops on self-representation and collaborative creation.

My Perspective on Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty is the right to prepare and consume food that reflects one’s culture and environment, the right and ability to have what we need to eat and drink. No unhappy meals, but rather good, nutritious and culturally-appropriate foods that nourish the body and the soul.

It is a strategy for survival and wellness, both individual and collective.   Ultimately, food sovereignty is based on good relationships: with your surroundings, with what you eat, and with the-non-human, promoting new modes of thinking and inhabiting the planet.

In the midst of the Legacies project, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through our collaborative research, I learned about the links between cancer and pesticides as well as processed food. While I am not a doctor, I had the honour of being surrounded by knowledge keepers in the stories we filmed; their teachings were a constant reminder that health is a result of good eating and our deep connection to the ecosystem.

My Participation in the Legacies Project

My research over years in San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, the first town founded by freed slaves in South America, has been focused on plant-human relations in the context of colonization. I have always used technology as a way to open up difficult conversations and to interest new generations in traditional knowledge about plants and the land.

When I began my PhD in Environmental Studies at York University and met Deborah Barndt, my supervisor, the Legacies project was just being born. I have been able to bring both my research interests and my multi-media skills into this collaborative project as a co-director of the video documentation and part of the core production team. I am deeply convinced that at this moment we need to experiment with the arts and the senses, to radically disrupt dominant ways of knowing, and to learn other ways to see, feel, and know.