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Artists in Ethiopia Protect the Environment through “Plant Graffiti”.

Artists in Ethiopia Protect the Environment through “Plant Graffiti”.

Jemmal Wako saw snowfall in Kofele for the first time two years ago while on a visit to his family. Wako, a diaspora Ethiopian living in Vancouver, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the tropical environment that he grew up in, and how it had changed. It was a clear sign that climate change has made a mark on the region.

Wako said that she never imagined seeing snow in her country. Canada is a place where we talk about the future and the environment all the time. But in Canada, those conversations don’t happen the same way. Many Ethiopians do not know what climate change is. Something needs to be done.

Wako is one of many artists and researchers working with the Rural Organization for Betterment of Agro-Pastoralists. They are working to restore Kofele’s biodiversity through a 50-meter tree-tree-planting program. The shape of a Lion. This living art is part of the larger Trees for LifeThe project will be visible from space, making it the first Earth observation artwork entirely made from plant life. ROBA is the collaborator in this project. Earth Art Studio(EAS), British Council, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, (KPU), and city planners from Dundee, Scotland to preserve Oromo cultural through plant graffiti. This will form the basis for the first arts curriculum at Ethiopian schools.

ROBA workers clear Kofele’s schoolyard to make room for the lion-tree nursery.
The lion tree nursery is the place where saplings start to grow.

The Ethiopian national animal, the Lion, is not only a symbol of cultural pride, but also the ability of the ecosystems to support large predators. The East African country has seen its population decline over the past century. 90% of its forests are undevelopedThis is the key to species endangerment widespread poverty. Tree-planting was once a central part of Oromo self-government, which was called the “Oromo Democracy.” Gadaa, which predates the federal republic. Hyperallergic spoke with Hussein Watta, founder and director of ROBA, over WhatsApp GadaaProtecting the land and celebrating Oromo selfdetermination has always been the goal of Oromo culture.

Elders describe us as victims and have lost our culture due to climate change. If you ask elders about trees and how Oromos preserved them, they will reveal that culture and arts are the key players. If a practice is deeply ingrained in a people’s culture, whether it be in song or art, they are more successful. My goal right now, is to mobilize those around this.

Hussein Watta, director of ROBA (center), is shown with Hadha sinqe women at the opening ceremony for the lion nursery at Kofele School on October 27th.

More than 5,000 ROBA workers have planted more than 4.2 million trees using only hand tools since 1995. They also planted a variety of saplings for fuel, animal feed, medicine, and other purposes. ROBA workers have been enduring extreme heat and torrential rainfalls since October to plant the 10,000 saplings that make up the lion. They are located in a Kofele schoolyard. ROBA is also planting trees in the shape of medicinal plants and in circle formations. Cordia africanasaplings inspired young Oromos from other areas to express their interest in plant graffiti.

ROBA has had difficulties in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a lack of equipment. Political violenceTigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost province. Watta sought guidance from KPU’s horticultural director to overcome these obstacles. Deborah HendersonEAS co-founders Sylvia Grace Borda J. Keith Donnelly. EAS has secured satellite access to Google Earth’s living artworks and provided 360-degree cameras to Oromo planters to record the process. They plan to work together to integrate the archives into school lesson planning, allowing each generation to inherit time honored cultural practices.

The living artworks will hopefully amplify the voice of a community which is not on the internet grid, has limited access to technological infrastructure and news distribution and receives so little representation despite its huge population and rich history, Borda said to Hyperallergic. We are attempting to combat climate change in a meaningful manner. The creative arts are not only a communicator, but part of the solution.

Aerial view of Kofele showing the planned outline of the city. Cordia africana sapling.

Borda and Donnelly worked previously on a similar satellite-project in Dundee. This city was designated a UNESCO Design City because of its innovative approaches. Climate Change public art. Their Internet of Nature projectGoogle Street View tracks each green space and park in public parks. John Gray, a Dundee sculptor and city planner, said to Hyperallergic, “Community ownership over public spaces should include its artworks.”

Gray said that counselors often believe public art is good for tourism because they see it as an economic benefit. It isn’t that way for me. It’s what I see. [something]For the residents. You can make public art first for the people, make them proud of their place, and give them that civic pride. They will be the best cultural ambassadors.

Recent debates about the impossibility of land art have led to calls for more sustainable ways to celebrate a culture in crisis. Reviving the spirit GadaaThe Trees for Life project envisions a future where ecological growth and cultural production are both possible. Wako says that this creative process can change perspectives about the value of each tree.

If we can educate our people about tree planting to prevent soil erosion, limit pollution, create jobs, regulate the water cycle, and regulate the water cycle, I believe no tree will be cut down again.

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