World Wetlands Day was marked on February 2nd in the ASN studios by three presentations linking creative practices and wetland conservation in Scotland and South East Asia.
Nadiah Rosli gave background information to the South East Asian Haze, which could be seen from space and was caused by illegal burning of tropical peat swamp forests for plantation of palm oil and pulp paper. Arriving for postgraduate study in Scotland in one of the worst Haze Years of 2015, Nadiah spoke about how she then realised how the restrictions posed by smoke had become to seem ‘normal’ for her friends and family in Malaysia. People in cities like Kuala Lumpur (thousands of miles from the fires in the Indonesian region, Sumatra) had begun to take it for granted that their shadows had disappeared because of the smoke in the air, and to use social media to record great joy (using the Arabic phrase Alhamdulillah) if small patches of blue sky appeared during the Haze season.
Showing the participants of the strange smell of a palm oil sample, Mungki Dewi talked about how she began to work with palm oil as a material during the first year of her ASN Masters programme. An exhibition at the ECCI during the 2016 Edinburgh Science Festival included her artwork, Hand. At first sight viewers might see the shape as a human hand, but looking close up you can see it cannot be. The orangutan handprint was made of palm oil, which has a strong odour that offers another sense to the work. Orangutans are badly affected when their swamp forest homes are burnt, and Mungki’s work speaks the irony of human, who is biologically closely related to apes, was the one that caused the loss of their habitat.
Kate Foster explored how she might respond to the degradation of wetlands in South East Asia from her base in Southern Scotland. An earlier piece, Lac-Tek explored how orphaned lambs consume tropical palm oil as one of the ingredients of artificial ewe’s milk, dispensed by a machine on a Scottish Borders farm. Her collaborative work with Nadiah for 2015 ArtCOP addressed “Questions of Scale” and sought ways to connect different places over time. Kate suggested further ways to make links through her new work on peat land restoration with the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership.
The second part of the event was an exchange of palm oil-free food, rujak/rojak buah (Indonesian/Malaysian fruit salad with sweet peanut sauce) served together with Selkirk bannock from the Scottish Borders.
Mungki Dewi is a postgraduate student from Indonesia at Edinburgh College of Art in the second year of the Art Space Nature programme.
Kate Foster is an environmental artist developing a peatland project with Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership in Scotland, linking this to tropical peatlands through a M.Res. in Interdisciplinary Creative Practice at Edinburgh College of Art. Further info: http://www.inthepresenttense.net
Nadiah Rosli is a freelance environmental journalist from Malaysia with an interest in science, culture, and grassroots initiatives. She gained an M.Litt. in Environment, Culture and Communication in 2016 from the University of Glasgow. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org