Ernest Zacharevic returns for a second year of Splash and Burn with a giant SOS distress call carved into the landscape of an oil palm plantation; calling attention to the ongoing destruction of Indonesia’s forests and wildlife.
At the end of 2017, fresh and handmade cosmetics company Lush partnered with conservation charity Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) with the launch of the #SOSsumatra campaign and a limited edition Orangutan Soap across Europe. There are only 14,600 orangutans remaining in the wild in Sumatra. In tribute to them, Lush made 14,600 soaps, which flew off the shelves in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Estonia, Switzerland and the UK, selling out in many countries in a matter of days and raising £126,014. The proceeds enabled the UK charity’s Indonesian partners, the Orangutan Information Centre, to buy 50 hectares of oil palm plantation land, to reclaim and restore native forest to an area on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem in Bukit Mas, Sumatra.
The land; which is almost totally devoid of wildlife is directly next to the Leuser Ecosystem – the only place in the world where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. In order to restore the land for wildlife, the charity first needed to remove the oil palm trees. Seizing the opportunity to send a dramatic message, armed with ribbons, a drone and a chainsaw wielding crew, Ernest and his team worked across approximately 20 hectares, carving a giant distress call into the landscape of the plantation, by selectively removing oil palms to spell out the letters SOS.
Splash and Burn Artist and Curator, Ernest Zacharevic said of the project:
“The nature of my work is very spontaneous and site-specific. I often prioritize the relationship of the artwork to its surrounding environment and community, over the aesthetic pleasure of viewing the art. The Land Art movement of the 60s and 70s has always been an inspiration to me. Just like graffiti, the context and location of Land Art is often as meaningful as its content or artistic expression.
I have had the ambition of creating a Land Art piece since the beginning of the Splash and Burn campaign. I wanted to communicate the magnitude of the problem to a wider audience as well as provide creative outlook, hope, and inspiration to local communities and conservationists.
Through months of collaboration with NGO’s and charitable organizations; Orangutan Information Centre, The Sumatran Orangutan Society and LUSH, the involvement of creatives and with the help of local communities; this idea came to life in Bukit Mas. From the ground, you would not suspect anything more than just another palm oil plantation, the aerial view however reveals an SOS distress signal. ‘Save Our Souls’ is a message communicated to those at a distance, a reminder of the connectedness we share with nature. As more of the forests are lost, we lose a little bit of ourselves in the process.
Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society: “Seen from the air, the SOS is a call for help from a patch of land that was once lush green rainforest. We intend to answer that call, by planting thousands of rainforest tree seedlings to replace the oil palm monoculture, re-creating a thriving ecosystem, buzzing with life.
The fallen palms will be used as compost to prepare the land for restoration. Our partners, the OIC, with the backing of the local community, will plant tens of thousands of rainforest tree seedlings to return the land to wildlife. We expect to see orangutans and many other species roaming in the new young forest within a couple of years.”
In early 2017 Ernest curated a series of unique art projects in and around Sumatra as part of Splash and Burn; Artist led initiative using creativity to encourage a wider conversation on unsustainable Palm Oil and its adverse affects on the dwindling wildlife population and the Sumatran landscape.
As the political debate escalates due to recent EU policy restrictions, now more than ever we need to be informed on the issues, encouraging steps towards why sustainability is and should be a common goal.