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.
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.
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.
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.
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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).
Read more from DiversEarth:
- Protected by Prayer: Reverence, Respect, and Reciprocity at the Heart of Sacred Natural Sites in the Mediterranean
- On the Move: Reawakening the Common Language of the Mediterranean’s Mobile Pastoralists
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.