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