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!

Follow Genesis and the ROM on Facebook and twitter @ROMContemporary

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Where to begin?

A line of penguins running off an iceberg plunging into the water.
Chinstrap penguins. South Sandwich Islands. 2009.  © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Start with art.

More than several times a day my heartbreaks as I watch what comes through my Facebook feed, like today as more information regarding the children of Syria killed by chemical weapons punctuated a moment. In these Orwellian times when we discover that Big Brother is indeed watching the wonder of the internet and social media is that we are watching too. We participate in bearing witness.

The other stunning quality of social media is that for every story that crushes me and makes me weep there are double, even triple, stories of action and resistance that offer hope and inspiration.

For example, my feed also includes what’s happening right now at Canada’s major cultural institutions and auxiliary events and projects surrounding these exhibits.  We have amazing curatorial teams that have produced shows that challenge the Chinese Government’s position on Human Rights, Canada’s policies on Aboriginal issues and the Economy of Oil, and global attitudes regarding the Environment.

My concern – do we walk away from these shows changed at a deep core level? Do we return to our daily lives radically motivated to stop being part of the problem and act in service of social justice and environmental causes? Will we change our level of comfort for the sake of stopping someone else’s pain or the loss of natural resources?

I pray that all the illumination will indeed cause a spiritual shift towards a tipping point that will alter the world. I want to see civilizations that are socially and environmentally just because today as children’s lives are ended by chemical warfare in Syria in this country Aboriginal women are being sold into the sex trade and the land along with the women is being violated.

It’s time to get radical folks.

What we experience in these exhibits can be our entry points into living with intention.

RECOMMENDED SHOWS THAT WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVES:

Sakahàn @ The National Gallery, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Indigenous and Urban @ The Museum of Civilization on until Sept 2

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis @ The ROM, Toronto on until Sept 2

Edward Burtynsky: Oil @ Museum of Nature, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Decolonize Me @ Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor on until Sept 15

Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape The We Change @ The McMichael, Kleinburg on until Sept 29

Ai Weiwei: According to What @ The AGO, Toronto on until Oct 27

& BIG FYI

Ghost Dance: Activism. Resitance. Art. @ Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto opening Sept 18 thru to Dec 15

“For centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the associated art to colonialism itself is disingenuous. The destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism are manifest by the interactions of people. The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism,” but on the events that it causes…Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.” Steve Loft, more on RIC’s website

Series of ads for exhibits at Canada's major cultural institutions.

CONTACT CONTINUED: Complete List of the Ongoing Exhibitions

Office door opening to large mounds of small photographs piled for gallery installation
Photography by Ahmed Sirry for Mixed Bag Mag.

TORONTO’S ANNUAL PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL
Missed it? Oops! Well good news is you can still catch a few more exhibits running past the May 31 end date. Here’s Mixed Bag Mag’s comprehensive list of what’s still on for Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

LOCAL TORONTO PHOTOGRAPHERS

  1. ENDING JUNE 8 – Edith Maybin’s THE GIRL DOCUMENT @ O’born Contemporary
  2. ENDING JUNE 9 – Janieta Eyre’s THE MUTE BOOK @ Katherine Mulherin Art Projects
  3. ENDING JUNE 16 – Sara Angelucci’s PROVENANCE UNKNOWN  @ Art Gallery of York University
  4. ENDING JUNE 16 – Mark Peckmezian PORTRAIT @ Harbourfront Centre
  5. ENDING JUNE 28-  Janieta Eyre CONSTRUCTING MYTHOLOGIES @ University of Toronto Art Centre Lounge
  6. ENDING JULY 7 – Mark Filipiuk SKOLA / SCHOOL @ Art Gallery of Mississauga


CANADIAN PHOTOGRAPHERS

  1. ENDING JUNE 29 – Andrew Wright’s PENUMBRA @ University of Toronto Art Centre


INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS

  1. ENDING JUNE 9 – Chris Marker’s (France) MEMORY OF A CERTAIN TIME @ Tiff
  2. ENDING JUNE 15 – Erik Kessels’ (Holland) 24HRS IN PHOTOGRAPHY @ Contact Gallery
  3. ENDING JUNE 15 – Danny Lyon’s (United States)  THE BIKERIDERS @ Stephen Bulger Gallery
  4. ENDING JUNE 15 – Doug Ischar’s (United States)  UNDERTOW @ Gallery 44 & VTape
  5. ENDING JUNE 29 – Botto + Bruno (Italy) I WAS ALREADY LOST @ Pari Nadimi Gallery
  6. ENDING SEPTEMBER 2 – Sebastião  Salgado’s (Brazil) GENESIS @ The Royal Ontario Museum
  7. ENDING OCTOBER 20 – Various Artists LIGHT MY FIRE @ Art Gallery of Ontario
  8. ENDING JANUARY 2014(India) Raja Deen Dayal’s BETWEEN PRINCELY INDIA AND THE BRITISH RAJ @ The Royal Ontario Museum 


Photography by Ahmed Sirry for Mixed Bag Mag.