Using art & social media to raise awareness about deforestation

IMG_3181It was great news that UNESCO unanimously rejected Australia’s bid to delist a large of area of old growth native forest in Tasmania earlier this week (especially as these areas were only awarded World Heritage status last year).

However, the battle is far from over and precious forests continue to be logged both here and overseas.

I was reminded of this recently via some thought-provoking artworks in a range of media in Canberra.

The first was an installation entitled ‘Unless’ (2013) by Sui Jackson at the Canberra Glassworks – where the artist wanted us to reflect upon how much a tree is worth and how long it takes to clear a hectare of forest.

At the beginning of the exhibition, a large display table was covered with 100 small trees made from either clear float glass or stained glass reclaimed from old church windows in various shades of green and yellow.

Although the artist may have had a slightly different idea, for me the key message was about the destruction of high conservation value forests – where the clear glass represented renewable relatively fast growing managed plantation timber and the coloured glass were old growth forests that would take centuries to replace (if ever).

Visitors were able to buy the trees over the course of the exhibition and take them home. Each time a tree was purchased, it was replaced by a small brown stump.

As you can see in my photo, when I finally saw the installation only a few clear trees remained and the display was littered with stumps.

I was very sad to have missed the more beautiful and varied green trees – but this experience clearly illustrated the fact that forests had been disappearing while I was busy thinking about other things.

The second was a presentation by Australian photographer Steve Parish at a symposium that explored the links between art and science, wildlife conservation, advocacy and education through art.

I was really moved by Steve’s story about a ‘before’ photo of a huge old tree in a poster with the caption ‘By Christmas it will be gone’ and an ‘after’ shot of a similar tree nearby that had been reduced to a stump only a few months later.



Steve’s message was that we need to ‘become filled with managed, well-directed rage’ and that each person should do what he or she can to protest against the mismanagement of Australia’s threatened flora, fauna and landscapes.


Last month, I also met an artist who had done her bit to help save the Franklin River in Tasmania when it was at risk of being dammed in the early 1980s.

IMG_3136Kirsten Jeffcoat was one of hundreds of protesters that were arrested and spent three days in the local lock-up over an Australia Day long weekend.

Instead of preparing her defence with the pencil and paper that were provided, she sketched her jail cell and turned it into a fabulous lithograph entitled ‘The Pink Palace‘ (1983) – a print of which is now in the National Gallery of Australia collection!

Kirsten continued to promote environmental and social issues as both an artist and teacher – from documenting protests against uranium mining at the Roxby Downs Blockade in South Australia to staging an international exhibition about indigenous rock art called ‘Taking the Pilbara to Paris’, and as photographer-in-residence at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.

We can’t afford to wait to get involved in the forest debate as ‘too late’ might be much sooner than we think. And we can all do something – even if we have limited artistic talent or reach.

In addition to checking the source of timber products we buy, a simple way to help save Tasmania’s ancient forests (hopefully without being arrested) is to let decision makers know how you feel by signing online petitions (e.g. here).

Although the World Heritage Committee has already voted, it’s important to keep the pressure up as protecting the forest now depends upon what the Tasmanian and Australian Governments (and loggers) do next.


Sources (Accessed 24 June 2014):

Photo credits (Reproduced with permission – all rights reserved):

  • Unless by Sui Jackson – Pip Marks
  • Protesters carrying ‘By Christmas it will be gone’ placard – Steve Parish
  • Stump adjacent to the World Heritage South West National Park in Tasmania – Steve Parish
  • Protest on the Franklin – Steve Parish
  • Kirsten Jeffcoat & the Pink Palace – Pip Marks

Categories: Art, Biodiversity

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. The forests in our backyards are disappearing too: Atlanta promotes itself as a “city in a forest” but we are constantly losing canopy. Older neighborhoods here are heavily treed, while in new developments the land gets scraped off and (maybe) tiny new trees are planted. So in our older suburbs, I’m always amazed when someone new moves in and immediately cuts down all the trees in their yard (why move in and kill trees, why not move to one of the places that don’t have trees yet? I’m baffled.) Can you tell I’m ranting because this is happening in my neighborhood?

    • Great point about clearing not just being an issue in faraway forests and wilderness areas. Do you have tree protection acts in the US? In Canberra and other cities it is quite difficult to get permission to cut down trees once they have reached a certain size. We even protect dead trees in new subdivisions etc as the hollows are important nesting sites for many endangered species.


  1. David Hockney’s digital drawings: To do, not to do, or to undo – Sustainability soapbox

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