Lisa Fraser is impressed by an exhibition in London which manages to approach environmental issues in a refreshingly non-ideological way.
The Wellcome Collection in London is one of the best places on earth to learn about science as it can be applied to daily life, without being overwhelmed by the technicalities.
I confess I tend to be anxious around hard sciences, but this place brings to life scientific problems in a way that can be understood by everyone – including those with non-scientific minds like mine.
The Wellcome Collection is also good at exploring the most pressing issues in today’s society. This summer, the new exhibition, Rooted Beings, looks at plants and their societal impact. It brings together displays from the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew Gardens) and artworks by contemporary artists like Gözde İlkin and Ingela Ihrman.
As the exhibition’s website explains, it is an invitation “to embark on a meditative reflection on the world of plants and fungi. The exhibition considers what we might learn from plant behaviour, and the impacts of colonial expeditions on the exploitation of natural resources and indigenous knowledge.”
I was particularly moved by the personal interpretation of plants by Joseca, from the Yanomami community. This is a group of tribes living in the Amazon rainforest, who are among the first to be impacted by major global issues like climate change and deforestation. Through poetic and almost childish drawings, Joseca warns us of the life-threatening risk of destroying our environment.
While the exhibition tackles the issue of climate change, it does so subtly, yet powerfully, and without falling into the trap of polemics or politics.
Nor does it push a particular narrow agenda. It neither makes an idol of nature nor represents it as a deified entity which we should worship.
Rooted Beings simply reminds us how nature is necessary to our collective survival as a species. Let’s remember, the word human itself comes from the Latin humus, meaning soil. We depend on creation for our own flourishing. For its balanced, non-ideological approach, this exhibition is different from most contemporary discussions on the environment.
Rooted Beings reminds us our daily life relies on plants, from water supply to farming, and importantly, medicine. Nature is represented as a vital, unique source of well-being and healing.
The exhibition also reveals how our relationship with plants has shaped human destiny. For instance, our thirst for knowledge triggered great expeditions like the ones to Latin America in the 18th century. Before that, learning how to cultivate fields triggered one of the main shifts in human history, when our ancestors gave up hunting-gathering to become farmers.
The exhibition articulates well the paradox between our desire to control plants and the deep mysteries they contain still to this day.
Roots extending deep beneath the surface, medical properties … We still have so much to learn!
The exhibition doesn’t give many answers. However, it triggers useful questions, and it makes us realise the importance of the topic.
Also, Rooted Beings extends beyond the exhibition, with a broad range of activities throughout the summer, talks, live events, and even an essay collection called This Book is a Plant.
The exhibition is short and does not bombard visitors with information. Instead, it invites us to rest, slow down the pace, and meditate. The sound of the wind in the trees, birds, water, and the ecosystem that live around the plants is particularly restful. Stepping inside the exhibition, even though it is located in such a busy area (near London’s main Euston station), was like finding peace in an oasis.
However short it is, the exhibition aroused my curiosity. My next step is to dive into the book and learn more about this fascinating topic. Welcome – or should that be ‘Wellcome’? – to the world of plants …
For further information, look here. The exhibition runs to 29 August.
Like what you’ve read? Consider supporting the work of Adamah by making a donation and help us keep exploring life’s big (and not so big) issues!