The fact that this primate was being tortured for the sake of HIV research is of course meant to unsettle the viewer and provoke the asking of some difficult questions. Considering how HIV was unleashed on the world in large part because of human encroachment on primate habitats, there was a layer of bitter irony here that may or may not have been intentional. It was unclear what was more disturbing, that such brutal suffering was the price of advancement in human medicine, or that many would find the price to be worth it because obviously a human life is worth more than a primate’s. This more than any other part of the exhibit revealed in its stark nakedness the vampire-like relationship between human society and the natural world.
Dr. Layla AbdelRahim is an anthropologist, philosopher and author based in Montreal who has written extensively on the subject of wilderness and our relationship to it. She recently gave an interview where she discussed her own unique perspective on a concept known as “rewilding,” and how this could be a possible solution to the environmental crisis. Rather than continuing the ghastly vampire-like relationship we currently have with nature, she says that we must begin to foster reciprocal relationships with the natural world built on a rejection of human supremacy.
“Once we start understanding the economic input and output, the extraction and consumption that is behind everything we take for granted, this is where the epistemic revolution will take place…What do [we] give back to that wild community? Do [we] allow it to exist for its own purpose, to simply enjoy life — not for [our] pleasure and not for [our] profit?”
She then goes on to talk about how this concept of rewilding could work on a practical level, and that we should —
“…give people a spot that they will rewild and open up to the growth of plant diversity, food diversity for non humans and humans alike.”
This idea of opening up space for the diversity of nature to flourish is crucial, and it is also what our own survival depends upon. Fossil fuel exploration, mining, and other extraction projects that destroy natural habitats must come to an end. The dumping of waste into the oceans and the over-fishing of the oceans must come to an end. The destruction of rain forests and grasslands for agriculture must come to an end. We must also find ways to mitigate the CO2 pollution that is literally eating away at our planet’s refrigeration systems at the north and south poles. Rewilding, creating spaces for the wilderness to heal and flourish, is about much more than respecting nature — it’s about understanding that the fates of all living beings on this planet are intertwined. We will not be able to destroy the natural world and then carry on with our technologically advanced society like nothing ever happened.
In conclusion, what felt most important about the ‘Wild’ exhibition is that it used a prestigious, mainstream platform (the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to reveal the scope of the crisis in a way that managed to seamlessly blend art and activism. The undeniable activist undercurrent behind this major exhibition felt unusual for a traditionally conservative institution known to shy away from politics and current affairs. We need much more of this if we’re to have anything resembling a solution to the environmental crisis. Our institutions, especially those that engage with the public, must become strong environmental advocates even if they do not consider themselves to be in the “business” of environmental advocacy— our survival as a species may depend upon it.
Written by Ron Whyte, originally published by Medium on July 30, 2017
Link to article here