Tuesday, 26 July 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: an indigenous tribe of the Amazon

Francesca Galeazzi is a sustainability engineer and artist, currently working for the design studio of Arup Associates in Shanghai, in pursuit of a greener and more sustainable model of urban development in China. Her art work focuses on issues of climate change, urbanisation and sustainable development. Here, she continues our series on New metaphors for sustainability.

I underestimated the amount of time and thinking that it would take me to come up with something that I am happy with. Sustainability not only is something that I care about, but it is also extremely difficult to pin down to something specific. It holds many facets and most are often equally important!

Having said this, I still believe that diversity is key to sustainability.

Ecosystems rely on a complex set of relationships and interdependence of diverse species and creatures to sustain themselves. This is the basis of all life on our planet and applies to flora and fauna, as well as society and culture. However, the current aggressive approach to global development that we have experienced in the last century is threatening diversity at all levels.

Visualising diversity is a difficult task. The first images that sprung to my mind were not too dissimilar to the United People of Benetton campaign in the 90’s, highlighting the beauty of multiculturalism. But how obvious it is! I also thought about cities, food, gardens, oceans, the coral reef - but none seemed really appropriate.

The metaphor that to me best evokes the idea of both ecological and social diversity is the Amazon, probably the most important biodiverse and rich ecosystem of our planet, under so much threat of irreversible change. But the image of that magnificent tropical rainforest is not sufficient to me to evoke the notion of sustainability; as a general metaphor I think it is too obvious and worn out.

I am instead choosing the image of an indigenous tribe of the Amazon. To me this conveys not only the ecological issues that rainforests around the world face today (deforestation, illegal logging, land exploitation, mining, etc) but also talks about that fundamental element that is societal diversity. Indigenous tribes, ethnic minorities and rural communities around the world represent a huge treasure of culture and unique heritage that is under increasing threat of disappearance.

The indigenous tribe of the Amazon is a metaphor for all those ethnicities in the world under physical and cultural threat, and indirectly for their endangered environment, too. It is also a metaphor for knowledge and strength, for cultural richness and social resilience, for strong community cohesion, for respect and adaptability to the natural environment, all of which to me are the pillars of sustainability.

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