In Langscape Magazine Articles

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

    September 27, 2021

    WORDS Liza Zogib, Divya Venkatesh, Sandra Spissinger, and Concha Salguero

    ART 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

     

    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

     

    Those women were Almudena Sánchez Sánchez, Ana Trejo Rodríguez, and Inés García Zapata from the Laneras (“woolworkers”) 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 “On the Move,” Langscape Magazine). 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

     

    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

     

    needle-felting process

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

     

    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

     

    Vegetable dyes

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

    Since being first exhibited in Hawai’i, One Square Meter has been featured at a number of other venues, including a show in Extremadura, Spain, in 2017 — where it appeared alongside a range of the Laneras’ blankets and other high-quality wool products of which they are so proud — and the international conference Communities, Conservation and Livelihoods in Halifax, Canada, in 2018.

    In close cooperation with DehesaLana, the Laneras’ organization in Spain, three other organizations have created their own versions of One Square Meter: the Avukma association in Turkey, the Mapuche women’s association Wallontu Witral in Chile, and the Cooperation of the Rural Mouneh in Aarsal, Lebanon. Each of the One Square Meters is a product of laughter, new friendships, and exchange of crafting skills and knowledge; each of them is a platform to showcase the diverse plants that are important in the lives of each group of participants. While the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown prevented us from gathering in exchange workshops, we trust in brighter times ahead when women woolworkers from different pastoralist communities can come together and share their expertise once again.

    Meanwhile, look out for the new virtual One Square Meter exhibition coming soon on DiversEarth’s website.

    The project continues today, knitting together different women from diverse communities.

    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. The project continues today, knitting together different women from diverse communities. 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.

    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

     

    World Conservation Congress

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

     

    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

     

    One Square Meter sculputure

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

     

    One Square Meter sculpture

    One Square Meter. Photo: Ana Trejo Rodríguez

     

    One Square Meter

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

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    Liza Zogib, Sandra Spissinger, and Divya Venkatesh work with DiversEarth, an organization for nature, culture, and spirituality. The One Square Meter project was started within the auspices of the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture, comprised of WWF-North Africa, Med-INA (Greece), SPNL (Lebanon), Yolda Initiative (Turkey), and Trashumancia y Naturaleza (Spain).

    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.