Totomoxtle is a project which uses native Mexican corn husks as surfacing veneer to make tiling and marquetry for applications in furniture and architecture by laminating them on cheap wood veneer or thin MDF using conventional wood glue. It can be lasercut for making marquetry and is suited for interior use.
There are 62 different strands of corn in Mexico, each with a different shape, taste and colour which also extends to their husks. This diversity of hues attest to the 9,000 year selective breeding process undertaken by the mesoamerican cultures to transform the wild teocinte (zea perennies) into the great diversity of strains of modern native corn which are key to the gastronomic and cultural richness of the country.
Global economic pressure, the introduction of genetically modified corn and the standardization of industrial farming for supermarket consumption and the production of corn syrup is threatening to eradicate the more fragile and “imperfect” native varieties and the traditional methods of farming that are still practiced to this day.
Besides from developing a new sustainable surfacing product, Totomoxtle also aims to raise awareness about the unethical business methods of GMO companies such as Monsanto which has resulted in a considerable loss of traditional farmland. Their strategies include creating widespread dependence on their chemical fertilisers and herbicides and the eradication of native strains through deliberate genetic contamination via pollination by GMO corn.
Tototmoxtle was done in collaboration with Zapotec and Mixteco communities in the sierras of Oaxaca and Puebla in southwest Mexico. They harvested the naturally coloured husks and in exchange the veneering techniques were taught to them with the idea of a future partnership in the production process that aims to create an economic incentive to keep planting these very valuable varieties of corn.
The small village of Tonahuixtla in Puebla is of particular interest to this project as its local farmers are reverting the effects of erosion and loss of subterranean water reservoirs in the wasteland created by the consequences of badly managed GMO agriculture and overgrazing. They are doing so by reforesting the town’s exhausted communal farmland with fruit bearing cacti. Trenches are dug to retain rain water on the hillsides and the newly planted cacti are creating a root system that is holding the freshly formed top soil and preventing it to be washed away by the strong summer showers. Their story of minimizing the ecological damages in their community with sustainable strategies has made them the ideal partners in this project.
I hope my pieces can raise awareness on the devastating effects that aggressive global economics are having on local, agriculture. Forcing small farmers into planting homogeneous, genetically modified crops will eventually lead not only to the destruction of traditional farmland and micro businesses, and the loss of independence to big corporations but also to the decimation of culture and culinary richness.
The politics of food is something we can’t ignore, and it’s an issue which is not limited to Mexico and eventually affects us all.
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