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Kiwi artist aboard The Clipperton Project in Tabasco, Mexico

Usumacinta Expedition May 2014 Dione Joseph and Maddie Photographer Bernardino Lopez
Usumacinta Expedition May 2014 Usumacinta sunsets Photographer Wilen Edver Chay Un
Usumacinta Expedition May 2014 Santa Lucia The start and end of a massive journey Photographer Karla Tammekand
Usumacinta Expedition May 2014 Tortillas made from scratch upon a very versatile oar (Left to right Berna Lopez and Ruth Brennan) Photographer Dione Joseph

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Artists have always been an eccentric bunch. We expect them to take new risks, venture into the unknown and essentially take the proverbial bull by the horns when it comes to their art.

New Zealand writer and director Dione Joseph is doing just that. Well, not literally wrangling with el toro but she is in Mexico and has just finished a month long expedition down the Usumacinta river, a project organized by the internationally renowned Scottish company The Clipperton Project. "This is an expedition like no other," says Ms. Joseph via Skype from Jonuta, Mexico where the group are currently staying for the night. "We are an international group of filmmakers, sculptors, visual artists, teachers, academics (our very own expedition doctor is a remarkable ornithologist and proficient sailor) and most importantly we are all here as a community to listen to the voices of this magnificent river and all the various land and sea dwellers of her waters."

Ms. Joseph met expedition leader Jon Bonfiglio in Melbourne in 2013 and their conversation about The Clipperton Project and it's remarkable emphasis that "anyone can be an explorer" led to ongoing conversations as they opportunities for potential collaborations. With a strong emphasis on engaging with local communities, the invitation a few months later to join this intrepid expedition as it journeyed from Palizada (three hours away from Villahermosa, Tabasco) along the mighty Usumacinta to Frontera was met with great enthusiasm.

The fours fundamentals of The Clipperton Project are to Explore, Engage, Energise and Empower and it is these principles that made both Bonfiglio and Joseph recognise that there was much scope for creative collaborations especially with Ms. Joseph's growing body of work in Indigenous performance in an international context. "This journey has been an incredibly challenging but also a rewarding experience," says Ms. Joseph.

We've been rowing in canoes that we've fibre-glassed ourselves with oars also personally planed and sanded; sleeping in a hammocks, regularly waging war with mosquitoes, cooking some fantastic meals with mangos, coconut and other local produce and to top it off doing 20-30kms every second day in the sweltering heat!

This is definitely not my typical day in the rehearsal room but then it's a good thing I've never believed in maintains the 'typical'!" But what's has been particularly resonant for this kiwi adventuress has been the opportunity to connect with people and culture. "We have been so warmly welcomed by everyone we've met, both the townsfolk and the people living by the river have shared meals with us, taken us to visit various Mayan mounds (sacred sites), local fishermen have offered personalised bird watching trips and we've been able to listen, share our own stories, do workshops with children and literally let the river take us where she pleases."

But it hasn't all been plain sailing, the group have faced unseasonal downpours on two occasions, were thought to be illegal immigrants but nevertheless welcomed and given asylum by locals, and also mistakenly accused of stealing a local canoe!

Needless to say the journey is full of unexpected twists and turns much like the river which has rarely seen such a group navigating its waters.The expedition will conclude at the end of the month and the team will return to Palizada before continuing on their own journeys. "This is a landscape where the voices of the howler monkeys animate a twilight littered with fireflies beneath velvety pink and purple sunsets, where mosquitoes and fire ants. But let's not get too romantic, fire ants are named appropriately and navigating the obstacle course of tarps and twine with a head torch on the way to an outdoor toilet isn't always as glamorous as it sounds, but certainly makes me appreciate hot showers and a real bed - when I eventually do get them!"

The expedition is expected to officially end on the 29th of May, 2014 with the group having covered almost 250kms along the Usumacinta River. Ms. Joseph will be back in Mexico City for two weeks post the expedition and will be available for interviews via skype and/or email from the 5th of June 2014 onwards.

For more information, high-res images and to organize interviews please contact Hayley O'Donnell at publicity@dionejoseph.com

Contact details: 
Hayley O'Donnell: publicity@dionejoseph.com

Written by

JK Productions

12 Jun 2014

Dione Joseph is a writer, director and dramaturge.