SUN­DAY VIBES

New Straits Times - - SUNDAY VIBES - “I have been vol­un­teer­ing for Green­peace

The group of vol­un­teers that par­tic­i­pated in the mu­ral paint­ing.

oil and tim­ber plan­ta­tions. “That was one of our first cam­paigns in Malaysia,” re­calls Heng.

In ad­di­tion to de­for­esta­tion, the Green­peace in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed ev­i­dence of ex­ploita­tion and so­cial con­flicts, il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion, de­vel­op­ment without per­mits, plan­ta­tion de­vel­op­ment in ar­eas zoned for pro­tec­tion and for­est fires linked to land clear­ance. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sub­se­quent re­port are also the most com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment of de­for­esta­tion in Pa­pua, In­done­sia.

“Pa­pua is one of the most bio­di­verse places on earth, and its pris­tine forests had un­til re­cently been spared the de­struc­tion hap­pen­ing else­where in In­done­sia. But now the palm oil in­dus­try is mov­ing in and clear­ing for­est at an alarm­ing rate. If we don’t stop them then Pa­pua’s beau­ti­ful forests will be de­stroyed for palm oil just like Su­ma­tra and Kal­i­man­tan,” shares Kiki Tau­fik, head of Green­peace’s global In­done­sia forests cam­paign.

“This global art in­ter­ven­tion in­volves 17 coun­tries across the world, such as Ja­pan, Aus­tralia, UK, US, and In­done­sia. We hope that peo­ple will come to­gether to stop a dev­as­tat­ing loss be­fore it hap­pens and to de­mand com­pa­nies to pro­tect rain­forests,” ex­plains Heng.

for a while now,” ad­mits artist Lee, smil­ing. “She was one of our first vol­un­teers!” chips in Heng. “I like the ethos of Green­peace, their prin­ci­ple of bear­ing wit­ness and truthtelling,” she adds. Her turn­ing point, she tells me, stems from the nu­clear disas­ter that took place at the Fukushima Dai­ichi Nu­clear Power Plant in Ja­pan, ini­ti­ated pri­mar­ily by the tsunami fol­low­ing the To­hoku earth­quake in 2011. “That re­ally got me into en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism,” she says, adding softly: “My mother is from Fukushima, you see.”

Lee, who hails from a fam­ily of artists (My fa­ther is a sculp­tor while my mother is a painter,” she says), works in tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary me­dia, and held her first solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the ten­der age of 19. With her ar­chi­tect sis­ter, Hui Lian, she’s the co­founder of Cai Hong De­signs, a be­spoke mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary de­sign stu­dio and col­lec­tive. Cai Hong De­signs is a so­cial en­ter­prise which pro­vides de­sign ser­vices through cre­ative arts ad­vo­cacy and ed­u­ca­tion in hu­man­i­tar­ian and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­texts. “Work­ing with Green­peace on this project was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. Af­ter all, there are perks to be­ing a long-time vol­un­teer!” quips Lee.

One of the great chal­lenges to­day, she points out, is that peo­ple of­ten feel un­touched by the prob­lems of oth­ers and by global is­sues like cli­mate change, even when they could eas­ily do some­thing to help. “We do not feel strongly enough that we’re part of a global com­mu­nity, part of a larger ‘we’. Giv­ing peo­ple ac­cess to data most of­ten leaves them feel­ing over­whelmed and dis­con­nected, not em­pow­ered and poised for ac­tion,” she ex­plains.

This is where, she con­tin­ues, art can make a dif­fer­ence. Art does not show peo­ple what to do, yet en­gag­ing with a good work of art can con­nect peo­ple to their senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this may spur think­ing, en­gage­ment, and even ac­tion.

“Shall we go take a look?” asks Lee, and we head out into the bril­liant af­ter­noon, to take a short walk to where the mu­ral is dis­played. It’s as breath­tak­ing as I imag­ined. Bril­liantly painted, the mu­ral’s bright walls de­pict a grand nar­ra­tive of Pa­pua’s iconic birds of par­adise flee­ing from the for­est fires into cities. “These birds are here in ur­ban spa­ces to ap­peal to the pub­lic that they need sav­ing,” ex­plains Lee soberly.

“The Wings of Par­adise mu­rals are points of de­par­ture to be­gin a pub­lic di­a­logue through cre­ative art ac­tivism; to raise aware­ness and in­spire ac­tion to pro­tect the rain­forests of Pa­pua and its rich bio­di­ver­sity,” con­tin­ues Lee, adding: “This mu­ral serves as a re­minder of the beauty New Guinea is the largest trop­i­cal is­land in the world. The only is­land larger than New Guinea is ice-capped Green­land (not count­ing main­land Aus­tralia as an is­land).

The east­ern half of the is­land is the ma­jor land mass of the in­de­pen­dent state of Pa­pua New Guinea. The western half, re­ferred to as West Pa­pua or sim­ply Pa­pua, is part of In­done­sia’s ter­ri­tory.

NGO Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional has qual­i­fied both In­done­sia and Pa­pua New Guinea as “megadi­verse” coun­tries.

There are 41 known species of the Birds of Par­adise and 37 of them are in New Guinea.

Pa­pua holds around a third of In­done­sia’s re­main­ing rain­for­est, but those forests are in­creas­ingly un­der threat. Tree cover loss in Pa­pua has been steadily in­creas­ing over the last five years, more than tripling be­tween 2011 and 2016. [GFW, Dec 2017]

Avail­able in Green­peace Ar­chive are il­lus­tra­tions are of the King Bird of Par­adise, The Twelvewired Bird of Par­adise and the Lesser Bird of Par­adise (all low­land species af­fected by de­for­esta­tion for palm oil in Pa­pua).

and di­ver­sity of co-cre­ation, of what we can achieve when our hearts and minds are one.”

It’s all part of Green­peace’s goal to con­nect with peo­ple over the val­ues, prin­ci­ples and pas­sion that it rep­re­sents, and to con­vey hope through its vic­to­ries. “There’s a lot of feel­ing of ‘What hope is there?’ in terms of cor­po­ra­tions and govern­ment chang­ing,” con­cludes Heng, adding that Green­peace’s main task is show­ing peo­ple that change is pos­si­ble and they have the power to make a dif­fer­ence.

elekoshy@nst.com.my

Birds of par­adise flee­ing the for­est fires be­sieg­ing Pa­pua New Guinea.

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