A giant SOS distress call has been carved into the landscape of an oil palm plantation in Sumatra by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, calling attention to the ongoing destruction of Indonesia’s forests and the demise of iconic species such as the Sumatran orangutan.
When they’re gone, they’re gone
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.
Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society, said: “This part of the forest was under attack, with more and more orangutan habitat being lost every week as illegal agriculture encroached into the protected area. By supporting us to buy this land on the buffer zone of the national park, Lush and their customers are enabling us to hold back, and reverse, the tide of forest loss.
"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."
Art and the Conservation Conversation
In early 2017 Zacharevic curated a series of unique art projects in and around Sumatra as part of Splash and Burn, an art initiative run with SOS which sought to use the presence of art in critical areas to give rise to a wider conversation on issues affecting community, consumerism, climate change and the ever dwindling wildlife population.
For their latest intervention, #SplashandBurn challenge the idea of ‘Art’ as an abstract gesture by physically altering and shaping the Sumatran landscape.
The canvas for Zacharevic’s latest intervention was an oil palm plantation, land almost totally devoid of wildlife, 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, Zacharevic 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.
“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.
"Through months of collaboration with NGOs 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." Splash and Burn Artist and Curator, Ernest Zacharevic.
Simon Constantine, head perfumer and head of ethical buying at Lush said: “We've fought to remove palm oil from our products for over a decade at Lush. Now, with the help of Sumatran Orangutan Society and their partners we are doing the same on the ground in Sumatra. Lush is committed to going beyond sustainability and by returning native habitat to Sumatra we hope this SOS message inspires others to take action.”
‘Save our Souls’ is a project curated and executed by the #splashandburn team working directly on the ground with the OIC. This was made possible by funds raised by the #SOSsumatra campaign championed by LUSH. Both are independent campaigns run in collaboration with the Sumatran Orangutan Society
Article on Lush Times: https://uk.lush.com/article/new-home-sumatran-orangutans
Find out more about SOS and their work, and sign up to regular updates here.
Tune into Lush Player on Thursday 15th February, 10am (GMT) for a live panel debate on palm oil, featuring representatives from SOS, OIC, WARSI and the RSPO. For more information about the panel: