TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Sebastião Salgado: Genesis at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

A line of zebras drinking insync at a pond
© Sebastião Salgado Courtesy of Amazonas images

“Deserts that we made, that we provoked with our own hands.”

The beauty of Sebastião Salgado’s message in Genesis? That the solution really is so simple! It’s not without hard work but if we want to start to reverse the damage done it is doable and Sebastião has proven it with his own hands on his own land.

Upon inheriting his parent’s cattle ranch in Brasil, the rainforest that was already almost 50% gone when he was a child was now diminished to 0.5%. Experiencing the devastation of the deforestation that had occurred over the decades of living far away, the love of his life, his wife Lélia, dared him with a “crazy idea.”

“Why don’t you put back the rainforest that was here before. You told me you were born in paradise. Let’s build paradise again.”  And so began Instituto Terra.

The result?

From this…

Image of land that no longer has trees. In a valley a cluster of buildings stand.

To this!

The after shot of the land with no trees now completely covered with trees. In a valley a cluster of buildings stand.

GENESIS is a global call to action.

Steven Laurie, the Associate Project Manger at the ROM, recounts this story:

I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation with a visitor in the gallery a few days after Genesis opened to the public. The individual, who was in their mid 20’s, questioned Sebastião Salgado’s notion of untouched landscapes by presenting a compelling argument: “The landscapes, people and animals depicted in the photos cannot be removed or isolated from the environmental impacts experienced globally.”

While initially Salgado’s idea of untouched landscapes presented a problem for the visitor, it also provided a great starting point for a richer conservation. We discussed how Genesis, conceptually from title to the photos shown, communicates a desire to prospect a “truth” or in the least seek an “origin” from which to measure, map or index change. From this viewpoint, the visitor suggested the idea of Genesis possibly being a story created to incite environmental activism through an individual’s “revelation” and journey for “faith”.  He finished our chat by saying, “You can’t fault Salgado for trying!”   

“Curated by Lélia Wanick Salgado, GENESIS takes you on a journey to rediscover the far corners of the world and urges you to consider what is left of our planet, what is in peril and what is left to be saved.”

The images in the exhibit that moved me the most were the ones where human beings are wrapped in the intimacy of their relationship with their environment. I am in agreement that the people pictured in the images cannot be “removed or isolated” from the rest of the world and are part of the cumulative impact but what comes forth from their relationship to their environment is an understanding of how to innovate with design – design that is sustainable leaving the lightest of footprints.

A group of dark skin women stand with their backs to the camera. Long woven bags, like sacks, hang from their heads. Yali women. West Papua, Indonesia. 2010. © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images. 

The image above is of women in Indonesia with the ‘perfect bag’! These beautiful bags are hand woven with orchid fibers.

Groupd of dark skin men and women huddled close to each other making fire. San people make a fire. Botswana. 2008. © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Despite what we may assume, the subsistence life of the San of Botswana leaves much time for leisure and days spent in the familiar company of family and friends.

Snow storm conditions with sun shining through the squalls. A woman in with sleighs and a hide tent pitched behind her.North of Ob River. Inside the Arctic Circle. Yamal Peninsula. Siberia. Russia. 2011. © Sebastião Salgado Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Sebastião’s images of the Nenets of Siberia show the lightness of being that comes with a nomadic culture that follows the seasons for the sake of their reindeer herds. Easy come. Easy go. The freedom of a sustainable lifestyle.

Important lessons for a post-modern world weighed down by the burdens of a lifestyle of accumulation.

GENESIS CLOSES THIS LABOUR MONDAY, SEPT 2. DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO SEE THIS MOVING & BEAUTIFUL EXHIBIT!

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