In Langscape Magazine Articles

One Square Meter: Wool Art Honors the Biocultural Diversity of Mobile Pastoralists

October 20, 2017

Text by Liza Zogib, Divya Venkatesh, Sandra Spissinger, and Concha Salguero

.

Artwork by Almudena Sánchez Sánchez, Ana Trejo Rodríguez, and Inés García Zapata

.

What follows is the story of One Square Meter — a story of how a creative art piece can make a compelling case for conservation in an entirely different way. . .

.

One Square Meter - Laneras

The three Laneras (“woolworkers”), who are the hearts and souls behind this beautiful and unique sculpture. From left to right: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, Almudena Sánchez Sánchez, and Inés García Zapata. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2016

.

DiversEarth is one of the founding members of the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture, a partnership that supports cultural practices in the Mediterranean Basin by reinforcing traditional ways of living harmoniously with nature. Early in 2016, during a team meeting in Dar Zaghouane, Tunisia, we were surprised to learn from our friends of Trashumancia y Naturaleza, a Consortium member, that plant species richness in Spanish grasslands is higher than that of tropical rainforests, as a result of mobile grazing practices. In Spain, one square meter of land where mobile pastoralism occurs can host up to forty different species of plants.

Plant species richness in Spanish grasslands is higher than that of tropical rainforests, as a result of mobile grazing practices. In Spain, one square meter of land where mobile pastoralism occurs can host up to forty different species of plants.

 


The plant species richness of grazed grasslands topping even that of tropical rainforests is a relatively new and surprising revelation to biologists. In 2012, the Journal of Vegetation Science published an article by J. B. Wilson et al. entitled “Plant Species Richness: The World Records.” The authors found that, when sampled in small areas, grasslands come out ahead in the plant species richness parade. Robert Peet, one of the study’s co-authors, commented in a National Geographic article that this fact is even more surprising in that “these are relatively infertile, long-grazed, or mowed grasslands.”


.

That surprising fact stuck in our minds. At the end of the day, when we returned to our shared accommodation, we spontaneously started coming up with ideas as to how we might creatively portray that key message. Wouldn’t it be good if we could make a One Square Meter out of wool and show the different flower species growing on it? Ideas were flowing, but after that evening we didn’t give them another thought—that is, not until later when one of us, Concha of Trashumancia y Naturaleza, told the others she had met some women who believed they could in fact create One Square Meter! So, without any set plan or budget, One Square Meter was underway. . .

.

diverse plant species

The jersey buttercup, English plantain, and common vetch are but a few of the many diverse plant species that can be found in One Square Meter of land where mobile pastoralism occurs. Photos: Alexander Belokurov/Imagenature, 2016

.

Those women were Almudena, Ana, and Inés from the Laneras project in Extremadura, western Spain—a group of Spanish farmers, artists, and professionals who came together to bring wool back into people’s homes, in order to revitalize social relationships and foster environmentally friendly farming practices. The three women worked together for almost three months solid with great vision and creative skills, crafting an astonishingly beautiful needle-felt sculpture of One Square Meter to show and celebrate the richness of plant species found in their region. Their work was based on a plant list developed by university experts who, interestingly, are also women passionate about sustainable grazing and wool.

In both a tangible and an aesthetically appealing way, One Square Meter highlights the positive links between mobile pastoralism and biodiversity. It is crafted out of Merino sheep wool — from the very flocks featured in our photography exhibition On the Move, which was launched at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i in September 2016 (see Langscape Magazine 5(1), Summer 2016, pp. 74–78). This type of wool originated in Spain. The black Merino wool that was used to fashion the base of the sculpture comes from a currently very rare and threatened breed. The detail in this art piece is phenomenal, intriguing everyone who has seen it, and even tricking some passing insects!

The detail in the One Square Meter art piece is phenomenal, intriguing everyone who has seen it, and even tricking some passing insects!

To accompany the sculpture and strengthen the message, we then developed text, photography, and illustrations that show the development of the artwork, pictures of some of the featured plant species, and beautiful drawings of others.

 

needle-felt sculpture

To help tell the story of One Square Meter, and to visualize the very real link between mobile pastoralism and plant diversity, we devised “illustration tiles” to accompany and support the needle-felt sculpture. Art: Divya Venkatesh/DiversEarth, 2016

.

needle-felting process

Studies of each plant are carefully carried out to facilitate the needle-felting process. It’s all in the planning! Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2016

.

needle-felting process

Carefully wrapping wool around a wire to create delicate plant roots. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2016

.

wool felt field eryngo

A lot of patience and precision is required to transform wool fibers into stunning three-dimensional sculptures using only a needle. Here, nimble fingers work on a field eryngo, one of the many plant species that can be found in One Square Meter of land where mobile pastoralism occurs. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2016

.

Vegetable dyes

Vegetable dyes are used to create wool of magnificent colors. The felt is then sculpted into delicate shapes. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2016

.

One Square Meter was first shown during the On the Move exhibition in Hawai’i. It will be shown locally in Extremadura in 2017, along with some of the On the Move photographs and a range of the Laneras’s blankets and other high-quality wool products of which they are so proud.

People who have seen the sculpture are so inspired that we have been motivated to think of ways of expanding this wonderful project, linking it to the development of rural economies and the marketing of high-quality pastoralist products. As a first step, we hope to produce One Square Meters from some of the other countries that are members of our Consortium (Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Tunisia). In addition, DiversEarth and partners are beginning to craft a new project on mobile pastoralism, biodiversity, and climate change called Roads Less Traveled, expanding our work from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas and Central Asia — so we look forward to seeing a Bhutanese version of One Square Meter in the near future! We’ll soon start looking for talented felt artists in these countries, and the Laneras from Extremadura may be able to help out with training — and certainly with inspiration.

World Conservation Congress

One Square Meter launched in 2016 at the 6th World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i as part of On the Move, a traveling photography exhibition created by the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture to celebrate the lives of mobile pastoralists. Photos: DiversEarth, 2016

.

World Conservation Congress

One Square Meter, World Conservation Congress, Hawai’i, 2016. Photo: DiversEarth, 2017

.

One Square Meter sculpture

A one-of-a-kind sculpture, One Square Meter was admired by all at the World Conservation Congress, becoming quite a popular photo op. These delegates were attending the Congress all the way from Peru. Photo: Concha Salguero, 2016

.

One Square Meter sculputure

One Square Meter photographed in nature by sunset in Extremadura, Spain. Photos: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2017

.

One Square Meter sculpture

One Square Meter. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2017

.

One Square Meter

Another view of the One Square Meter sculpture. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez, 2017

.

The One Square Meter project was dreamt, created, and brought to life by a group of passionate women with great energy, vivid imagination, and positive intentions. We have no doubt that the project has a bright future ahead. We hope its unique message and powerful call to maintain and revitalize the threatened practice of mobile pastoralism in all its forms, all over the world, will find resonance with an ever wider and more diverse audience.

.

Back to Vol. 6, Issue 1 | Read the Table of Contents | Like Our Stories? Please Donate!


.

Liza Zogib, Sandra Spissinger, and Divya Venkatesh work with DiversEarth, the coordinating member of the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture, which also includes WWF-North Africa, Med-INA (Greece), SPNL (Lebanon), Yolda Initiative (Turkey), and Trashumancia y Naturaleza (Spain). Read more from DiversEarth.

Concha Salguero works with Trashumancia y Naturaleza, an organization dedicated to reviving long-distance transhumance, conserving transhumance routes, and providing support to transhumant herders in Spain.

Find out more about DiversEarth at www.diversearth.org, about the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture at www.med-consortium.org, and about Trashumancia y Naturaleza at trashumanciaynaturaleza.org.


Further Reading

Davies J., Herrera, P. M., & Manzano Baena, P. (Eds.). (2014). The Governance of Rangelands: Collective Action for Sustainable Pastoralism. New York, NY: Routledge.

McGahey, D., Davies, J., Hagelberg, N., & Ouedraogo, R. (2014). Pastoralism and the Green Economy—A natural Nexus? Retrieved from https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/content/documents/2014-034.pdf

Zogib, L. (Ed.), (2014). On the Move for 10,000 Years: Biodiversity Conservation Through Transhumance and Nomadic Pastoralism in the Mediterranean. Geneva, Switzerland: DiversEarth & Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture.

Tags: , , , ,