A multimedia exhibition by the Goethe-Institut and the Prince Claus Fund Art and culture responds to the climate crisis.
Shunyo Raja (Kings of a Bereft Land) Arko Datto, Where Do We Go When The Final Wave Hits, 2017 Photography Goethe-Institut: Take Me to the River © Arko Datto 2017
All over the world, cultural professionals, artists, architects and designers are grappling with the effects of climate change whilst actively involving their communities. Their work opens up creative spaces that raise awareness of changes in our environment and develop possible solutions to counter the climate crisis. Some of these perspectives are now being shown in the Goethe-Institut and the Prince Claus Fund’s multimedia exhibition Take Me to the River, curated by Maya El Khalil. The selected works from Egypt, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Congo and other countries include film, photography, VR video, audio-visual archives and community radio. Due to the pandemic, the exhibition will be presented online from 15 December at www.takemetotheriver.net.
Since 2018, a joint funding programme by the Goethe-Institut and the Prince Claus Fund has been supporting initiatives that seek cultural and artistic responses to global environmental changes. Around 35 art and culture projects from Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe have been funded so far. Take Me to the River, a multimedia online presentation, will make 15 of these artworks available to the public.
Johannes Ebert, secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut, said of the upcoming digital exhibition platform, “The world is being shaken not just by the present pandemic, but also by the vast consequences of the climate crisis. As a global cultural institute, our cultural and educational work has long been committed to issues of sustainability and ecology and we support related artistic initiatives such as this with the Prince Claus Fund. Climate change is a key challenge for all of humanity. We therefore continue to promote these topics at our 157 institutes worldwide. We need more emotional approaches to openly discuss sustainability in society. Art and culture offer the space to perceive and work on challenges from different perspectives. They galvanise us and at the same time offer concrete solutions.”
Take Me to the River presents the diverse perspectives of the funded projects as a chorus of voices against resource depletion, environmental abuse and the violation of the rights of indigenous communities. The exhibition is curated by Maya El Khalil, independent curator and cultural adviser based in Oxford. It pursues five narratives – Subject of Rights, Object of Abuse, Nature Prosecutes, Humanity Sentenced and Motion to Recover – to weave the individual projects into a story that both illustrates the effects of the climate crisis on people and the environment and shows alternative answers.
Shnyo Raja (Kings of a Bereft Land) Arko Datto, Where Do We Go When The Final Wave Hits, 2018 Photography Goethe-Institut: Take Me to the River © Arko Datto 2018
The journey begins with a repositioning of nature in the Subject of Rights chapter, which presents works that create new subjectivity and respect for the non-human world. For instance, in his multimedia work Secret Sarayaku the Ecuadorian artist Misha Vallejo provides insights into the everyday lives of the indigenous Kichwa from Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. His work – consisting of photographs, video interviews, drawings and sound collages – shows, among other things, how the Kichwa, who have a physical and spiritual connection with the jungle and refer to it as the Living Forest, use social media as cyber activists to fight the exploitation of natural resources and to preserve their living environment.
The second chapter, Object of Abuse, takes an intrepid look at the torments of nature and the irreparable damage caused by exploitative practices. One example is the Colombian government’s extreme reaction of destroying rainforests to curb the cocaine trade. The Coca Files project by Diana Rico and Richard Decaillet reveals a different perspective on the coca plant, which in its natural leaf form has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples of the Andes for spiritual guidance, to alleviate hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue as well as to overcome altitude sickness. The Coca Files are an audio-visual, interactive archive that highlights the difference between the coca leaf and cocaine and emphasises
the importance of a dialogue between western and indigenous thought.
The third thematic focus, Nature Prosecutes, focuses on the idea that nature takes revenge. Natural disasters, dwindling resources and increasingly unpredictable weather changes are the direct result of human activity. The effects of negative environmental influences can be seen, for example, in the work of the photographer Arko Datto, which shows the lives of Ganges delta inhabitants: Shunyo Raja: Kings of a Bereft Land. The delta flows into the Bay of Bengal and is home to the Sundarbans, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. The three-part photo project makes the precarious state of this endangered region visible and offers deep insights into the fight against natural disasters as an omnipresent, omnipotent enemy that can strike anytime and anywhere.
The gruesome consequences of climate disasters and nature exploitation for human health are presented in the fourth chapter, Humanity Sentenced. The Wadi al Qamar in Egypt, Arabic for Moon Valley, was named after the reflections of the moon’s rays on its huge barley lantations and was once considered a place of relaxation and healing. Today its 60,000 residents live under a constant cloud of toxic dust emitted from a cement plant.
Hunger and debilitating respiratory diseases are the result. The documentary film Moon Dust by Mohamed Mahdy shows the struggle of the residents of Wadi al Qamar as an example for the countless communities around the world to enforce their right to health against tolerated and shameless pollution.
The online journey ends with the topic of Motion to Recover, in which projects look for active solutions and responses to the disasters. Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza wants to prevent the death of coral reefs due to increasing water pollution with his project KORALLYSIS: The modular ceramic structures that are integrated into damaged coral reefs work like prostheses to reintroduce organisms such as plankton, algae and barnacle larvae. The implants eventually fuse with the reef and reinforce it. The project focuses on public discourse and multidisciplinary collaboration, as well as the ongoing involvement of the local community in the various phases of development, manufacture and testing.
Joumana El Zein Khoury, Director of the Prince Claus Fund, said: „This exhibition exemplifies the Prince Claus Fund’s conviction that artists of all kinds can have a positive, transformative impact on their societies. Through our ongoing collaboration with the Goethe-Institut we have been able to support creative works that not only contribute to awareness of the most important issues of our times, but also lead us to new ways of
thinking about them and to seeking solutions. By putting Take me to the River online, people all over the globe will be able to see these works and be inspired by them.”
The multimedia exhibition will be available online from 15 December at www.takemetotheriver.net
Shunyo Raja (Kings of a Bereft Land) Arko Datto, Terra Mutata, 2019 Photograph Goethe-Institut: Take Me to the River © Arko Datto 2019