Shepherding Sovereignty


Amy Franceschini
individual artist, Futurefarmers


In September 2007 a flood of sheep and shepherds from 32 countries traversed across the city of Madrid. Before entering the city, the sheep gathered in a public park on the outskirts of town to fuel up for the trek across an ancient grazing route now threatened by urban sprawl and man-made frontiers. The World Congress of Nomadic and Transhumant Pastoralists hosting herdsmen from the Masai plains of Kenya and the steppes of Mongolia has now re-established the right of shepherds to drive their herds through the capital of Spain’s empire. Instigated by artist and organizer Fernando Garcia Dory, the gathering has become instrumental in mobilizing people and organizations nationally like Platforma Rural, an alliance of stakeholders including farmers unions, consumers’ associations, development NGOs, environmental organizations, and workers’ unions (industry or agriculture), and internationally the European Platform for Food Sovereignty, La Via Campesina [the International Peasant Movement](1) and others. This gathering led Dory to initiate a shepherd’s summer school in an attempt to revive an age-old human occupation, which exemplifies the complex symbiotic relationship between humans and animals in a natural state. Within a decade the school has become highly oversubscribed, as people everywhere came seeking an alternative to the extremes of the European lowland climate, and the chance to spend several months a year in the enriching presence of goats and sheep on the mountain ranges of Europe. The Congress itself developed into a forum for the exchange of traditional knowledge of all kinds and skills such as horse-archery and soda bread baking.

This example of actualizing another possible mode of operating illustrates a collective being of wonder (2) –a primary experience that goes beyond the imagined and makes visible a collective resistance (a moment of solidarity– a sovereign space) to a particular current that informs the way we move through our lives.

While these efforts in Madrid are re-establishing the paths of shepherds, 1000 miles to the east, the ancient tradition of seed saving is being strategically destroyed. Following the U.S. occupation in Iraq in 2003, the National seed bank in Abu Graib was destroyed and looted. Under the veil of humanitarian aid and reconstruction, a Frankenstein effect is unfolding in the Fertile Crescent–where humans began to control the growth of grain in 8000b.c., (the birth of agriculture). Today, 465 metric tons of wheat is being delivered to eastern Baghdad farmers as building blocks for a new economy. In the same year as the National Seed Bank in Abu Ghraib was destroyed and looted (2003), Daniel Amstutz, U.S. senior ministry advisor for agriculture, was positioned in Iraq to lead reconstruction efforts. Amstutz was also CEO of Investor Services at Cargill, where he began in grain trading eventually heading the wheat desk and ending up at Goldman Sachs in grain futures trading. In early 2005, a newsletter of Garst Syngenta reported donations of trademarked seed to Iraq, namely patented strains 8380IT, 8288, 8285 and 8230IT. Under Paul Bremmer III, Administrator of a newly created Coalition Provisional Authority, 100 orders were put into effect intending to “help Iraq become a full member of the international trading system known as the World Trade Organization and to recognize the desirability of adopting modern intellectual property standards”(3). Under order 81, of the hundred orders, “Farmers are to be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties”.

Shepherding Sovereignty was a set of sand filled wheat sacks made for the AgriART exhibition in 2009. Each sack had a petition silk-screened on the back. Installed as stacked sandbags, this grouping of sacks exhibited itself as a safeguard or blockade, but within the museum, the stacks were not “protecting” anything. Their occupation of space within the gallery made reference to the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the subsequent “rebuilding” of the destroyed infrastructure. These symbolic building blocks/seed bags became vehicles to invite visitors to the museum to take part in building a collective voice in support of the farmers right to save their own seeds and preserve the heritage that has been developed over thousands of years to sustain human populations. As this herd of bags assembles in museums across the country, signatures of visitors will be gathered. Once all petitions are full, the sand will be emptied in a local playground/sandbox and the remaining cloth petitions will be shepherded through US mail to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture of the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. as a declaration to promote food sovereignty- the RIGHT of peoples, countries, and state unions to define their agricultural and food policy without the dispersal of agricultural commodities into foreign countries. This project is also an invitation to you to take part in further research to uncover the actions of agribusiness in Iraq and beyond.

P.S. Save Seeds!


1. La Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Africa, America, and Europe. They are a coalition of over 100 organizations, advocating family-farm-based sustainable agriculture and were the group that first coined the term food sovereignty.

2. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Of the Social Contract, Book III, Chapter III.
In his 1762 treatise Of the Social Contract Rousseau argued, “the growth of the State giving the trustees of public authority more and means to abuse their power, the more the Government has to have force to contain the people, the more force the Sovereign should have in turn in order to contain the Government,” with the understanding that the Sovereign is “a collective being of wonder” resulting from “the general will” of the people, and that “what any man, whoever he may be, orders on his own, is not a law” – and furthermore predicated on the assumption that the people have an unbiased means by which to ascertain the general will. Thus the legal maxim, “there is no law without a sovereign.”

3. Introduction to the Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 80

Amy Franceschini

Amy Franceschini creates formats for exchange and production that question and challenge the social, cultural and environmental systems that surround her. An overarching theme in her work is a perceived conflict between humans and nature. Her work manifests as websites, installations, open-access laboratories, and educational formats that often take form as long-term engagements with a specific place and public. Her projects reveal the ways that local politics are affected by globalization. In 1995, Amy founded Futurefarmers, an international collective of artists. Futurefarmers hosts an artist in residency program that offers a platform for collaboration and research. The program has hosted over 22 artists from 12 countries and forms the basis of a distributed network of artists who make up the collective. In 2004, Amy co-founded Free Soil, an international collective of artists, activists, researchers, and gardeners who work together to propose alternatives to the social, political and environmental organization of space. Free Soil has exhibited internationally and received funding from the Danish Arts Council, and Zero One, San Jose to create temporary public art projects. Amy’s solo and collaborative work have been exhibited internationally at ZKM, Whitney Museum, the New York Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. She received her BFA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Stanford University. Amy is a professor of Art + Architecture at the University of San Francisco and a visiting artist at California College of the Arts Fine Arts Graduate program.