Call for participants
Rather than focusing on a particular species story, Remembrance Day for Lost Species (also called Lost Species Day, or RDLS) 2019 invites people to celebrate the ways that humans have named, loved and lived with their human and non-human kin. An aim of Lost Species Day 2019 is to highlight the histories and current importance of indigenous people and traditional cultures as ecological stewards.
The recorded names of now-extinct and endangered species were often given to them as part of the extractive colonial processes that are responsible for ecological crises worldwide. Many of these animals and plants would have had local names already, but what are they? Lost Species Day 2019 may offer participants paths to restorative knowledge and place-based practice through exploration of the local names, stories and knowledge of extinct and endangered species.
There are many different ways to participate – here are a few examples:
- Find out about and share stories that are local or relevant to you (eg local names of lost or endangered species)
- Make art
- Host a ceremony or event
- Research your indigenous language/s
- Learn about the languages of animals and plants
- Additionally, on days before or after RDLS, organise or participate in personally and collectively restorative activities (e.g. beach and waterway cleans, tree planting, gardening with pollinators and soil in mind).
How to join RDLS 2019
- Join and share the FB event
- Like and share our FB page
- Let us know if you hold an event, and we can help promote it
- Document your event and share any images, text etc with us via Twitter or Instagram @lostspeciesday, or email us. Use the hashtags #lostspeciesday, #lostspeciesday2019 and #originalnames
- We also welcome blog posts for this website.
About Remembrance Day for Lost Species
Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct species. These stories lead to the stories of critically endangered species, ways of life, and ecological communities. Set up in 2011 in response to species extinctions resulting from human activity, Lost Species Day is an opportunity to make or renew commitments to all who remain and to collaborate on creative and practical solutions. The primary intention of the day is to create spaces for grieving and reflection. Previous activities have included art, processions, tree planting, building Life Cairns, bell casting and ringing, Regenerative Memorials and more. Explore this website for examples of past events.
Lost Species Day is a voluntary initiative supported by a loose collective of artists, activists and charitable organisations.
Remembrance Day for Lost Species Declares a Climate and Ecological Emergency
In recognition of the science of climate change and of the devastating climate-related impacts of extractive capitalism on human lives, biodiversity and ecosystems around the world, the founders and advocates of Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th (RDLS) declare a climate and ecological emergency. We pledge to use the reach and influence of RDLS to take positive action on climate and to support those who are tackling this emergency. These are our intentions:
1. WE WILL TELL THE TRUTH
Governments and the media must tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency and its associated harms that disproportionately affect frontline communities and people of colour all over the world. They must communicate the urgent need for far-reaching systemic change. RDLS pledges to:
- Use its platforms to communicate with people and support them to discuss and respond to the climate and ecological emergency, and to understand the changes that are needed.
- Address fake news and bias in the media by posting/ reposting representative and scientifically accurate articles and information resources on RDLS social media, whilst also showing emotional responses such as grief and anger that people have.
2. WE WILL TAKE ACTION
Governments must reverse climate-harming policies and enact legally binding policy measures to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels. We pledge to:
- Challenge governmental policies and actions at all levels that do not help to reduce CO2 emissions or fossil fuel consumption levels
- Imagine and model ways that RDLS and its participatory practices and actions can regenerate the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems in ways that support social and racial justice.
3. WE ARE COMMITTED TO JUSTICE
The emergency has arisen from deeply systemic injustices. Arts and culture can imagine and forge shifts in the ways people relate to one another and the world, in values and behaviours. We pledge to:
- Use RDLS’s brand and platforms to amplify the voices of people and ecological communities experiencing climate and environmental injustice and highlight intergenerational harm.
- Support practical acts of solidarity that are informed by people directly affected by the systems and structures driving the ecological emergency, and promote initiatives led by these communities.
- Endeavour to ensure that our practices, projects and proposals are underpinned by reflective dialogue as we push for biodiversity restoration, restorative culture and rapid action for climate justice.
For more information on #CultureDeclaresEmergency, please see the CultureDeclaresEmergency website.
Tsai Tung Li
Ponso No Tao: A Place for Living
Paper, pencil, watercolour, collage 2018
The subject of extinction also touches on culture, environmental justice, and race. Even within the same ethnicity or country, there are huge differences between the culture where a person comes from and the culture where they live. This doesn’t only affect human beings – it is mirrored in the lives of animals in the wild and in cities. In my own country, Taiwan, this can be seen in the story of Orchid Island.
Orchid Island, or Ponso No Tao – ‘a place for living’ – is off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The islanders are mostly aboriginal Taiwanese: Tao people, who work as farmers and fishermen living closely with nature. Tragically, Orchid Island is best known in relation to the issue of nuclear waste. A nuclear waste storage facility was built at the southern tip of the island in 1982. It continues to receive waste from Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants. Islanders did not have a say in the decision to locate the facility on the island. This happens in lots of communities in the world: often people don’t even have a chance to speak out. I am grateful to have a chance to bring it up here, whether it arouses grief, rebellion or simply awareness.
By conveying the messages of Lost Species Day through images and a story close to my life, I intend to create conversations with people of all ages. Trying to see things with a more childlike sensibility gives space for imagination. Choosing a flying fish as a narrator not only symbolises the aboriginal people but also gives a voice to this beautiful animal who cannot vocalise its suffering. My goal is to raise awareness of environmental injustices and create a conversation about the impacts of capitalism.
Louis T. Fowler Endangered Species Ink Drawings.
The species’ disappearance are represented through ‘meandering, vanishing ink lines and trails’ (Louis’ website, link below).
Natee Puttapipat / Himmapaan
Drawing by illustrator Natee Puttappipat (@Himmapaan) for RDLS 2018.
Source: Lost Species day Twitter images / @Himmapaan
A new artwork created by artist/ illustrator Sara Otterstätter/ @SaraLutra, dedicated to Steller’s Sea Cow for RDSL 2018.
Source: LostSpeciesDay retweeted @SaraLutra (Sara Otterstätter)
A 6 metre, subadult life-size drawing of Steller’s Sea Cow by artist Sonia Shomalzadeh. Here it is displayed on ONCA’s Barge for the RDLS Procession in Brighton 2018.
Source: LostSpeciesDay Twitter
Chicago (IL), USA: A Benefit Concert 30/11
A benefit concert that featured original songs about extinct animals by Chicago-based singer-songwriters. All the proceeds went to ‘Friends of the Chicago River’, a charity working to improve the health of the Chicago river system for people, animals and plants.
Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka: A Beach Ritual
A ritual was held on Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka in praise of whales.
White Plains (NY), USA: A Congregation
A community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains, hosted by Revs. LoraKim Joyner and Meredith Garmon.
Falmouth, UK: A Film Screening
The documentary Albatross by artist Chris Jordan was screened in Falmouth. The film depicts the tragic occurrences of dead albatrosses with stomachs filled with plastic, reflecting on the destructive power of mass consumption.
(Info on film: https://www.albatrossthefilm.com/ourstory/)
Galway, Republic of Ireland: ‘Sing for our Planet’ meeting with Transition Tunes Galway 30/11
A meeting was held at St Nicholas’ primary school for an hour to remember and raise awareness of the plight of all the extinct and endangered species of the world. Poems, songs, music and silence were shared.
Amsterdam, Netherlands: Exhibition and Performances Exploring the Extinction of Birds
BirdScore is a collaboration between artist Jeroen van Westen (NL) and musician/artist Michael Pestel (USA). It involves an interactive set of multi-media installations, a choreographed/scored performance work, interlocking indoor and outdoor, and a strategy for local environmental research and interspecies communication with birds. Through these works, the artists look at the world from the point of view of the nearly two hundred species of birds gone extinct since the time of colonial expansion in the 17th Century, seeking to give voice to species we can no longer hear, and images to sights we can no longer see. Art meets science in this speculative area to explore a way in which to develop a cross cultural awareness for the interactive dynamics between nature and culture as a possible prerequisite for a sustainable relationship with and between all forms of life and habitats on this planet.
Detroit (MI), USA: Film Screening and Performance Event 30/11
A two part event consisting of a community potluck and film screening, followed by performances by Vness Wolfchild and Roo Gatsby. Guests were encouraged to dress as a species other than their own.
Singapore: Remembrance Gathering 30/11
People met outside in Singapore for rituals, song, primal movement and story sharing.
Image source: Florence Leung on the facebook event page
Leiden, Netherlands: Building a Life Cairn 30/11
A Life Cairn was built in Leiden, inspired by the Life Cairn that was built in 2011 by Andreas Kornevall and others on Mount Caburn in Sussex. Participants gathered and added stones to commemorate plant and animal species that will never be encountered again due to their extinction.
A stone was sent from the USA to Leiden to be added to the Life Cairn.
Somerset, UK: Poetry Reading 30/11
People gathered at the trig point of Cley Hill in England. On top of this 244m hill, participants shared a reading of the poem ‘Bestiary’ by Joanna Macy. The poem is an expression of grief for the loss of species, with an intention for people to know the depth of this sorrow so as to feel the depth of their belonging.
An extract of the poem reads:
‘The list of endangered species keeps growing longer every year. With too many names to hold in our mind, how do we honor the passing of life? What funerals or farewells are appropriate?’
Barcelona, Spain: Ritual Gathering 30/11
A ritual gathering with flowers, candles and instruments to raise awareness about the extinction of species, biodiversity loss and environmental crises in a non-aggressive and inclusive way.
Stories of lost species were told such as that of the last Pyrenean ibex (2000) and the last Pinta Island tortoise (2012), as well as a discussion on how to halt the sixth mass extinction by transforming society’s relationship with nature.
This event ran in support of biodiversity project ‘Nature Needs Half’ which aims to protect 50% of the planet by 2050. https://natureneedshalf.org/
Encinitas (CA), USA: Storytelling and Ritual 30/11
People gathered for a fire ritual and storytelling in commemoration of extinct species.
Germany: Steller Society Events Programme 2018
An international society that celebrates the work of naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller dedicated its 2018 annual programme of activities to Steller’s Sea Cow and Remembrance Day for Lost Species. Steller discovered the Sea Cow in 1741 around the Commander Island but it was driven to extinction by 1768.
Maui, Hawaii: Seaweed Mandala 30/11
Manitoulin Island, Canada: Ritual 30/11
Nature communicator Madii Kasem hosted an evening of shamanic teachings, stories and ceremony with special guest Debra Ann Tate, ‘remembering the loss of animals and plants while celebrating our power to co-create the world we want to live in.’
Muiderberg, Netherlands: Event of Art, Talks, Music, Ceremony 30/11
In Muiderberg an afternoon/ evening of talks, artworks, film, discussion, singing, a fire and a shared meal was held for RDLS. Participants created shell-like objects and lay them down after a silent ritual with an intention.
Totnes, Devon, UK: Building a Life Cairn 1/12
A Life Cairn was built on a hill overlooking the river Dart in Devon for RDLS. A procession took place to the site of the Cairn by a maple tree, with 160 flags painted with extinct species suspended from wooden sticks. Stones were then layed in honour of these species.
‘These are species that are never to give birth again, never to sing, dance, court, hunt or be the astonishing animate expression of our Mother’s deep dreaming… I can only explain this as the consequence of having stepped out of the web of deep belonging.’ Azul Valérie Thomé (participant).
Photographs by Kay Michael (source: facebook event)
Knysa, South Africa: ‘Art for Species’ Exhibition, 5 – 30 November
Inspired by and in support of Remembrance Day for Lost Species, an exhibition was organised by artists in South Africa to reflect on current endangered and vulnerable species. Several talks, workshops and guided walks ran alongside the exhibition. The exhibition and project was led by artist Janet Botes who is passionate about inspiring action in support of biodiversity.
The exhibition included the work ‘Floating Away’ by Ingrid Nuss.
More artworks and information on the whole project at: https://artforspecies.org/artworks/
Cape Town, South Africa: Beach Gathering 30/11
An all day beach gathering was held on Glen Beach for Lost Species Day with South African calligrapher Andrew van der Merwe. Having pioneered techniques in beach calligraphy, Merwe gave a sand scribing workshop before proceeding to record the names of lost species in the sand. As the tide changed, the water washed away the transient artwork.
‘Through their names we will remember’
Following sunset and the disappearance of the words written in the sand was a shared picnic, fire dancing and the lighting of the extinction symbol. Participants were invited to contribute in any creative way they felt inclined e.g. reading a poem, storytelling, drumming, sketching, sand art or simply grieving in silence.
*add photograph of burning extinction sign*
Brighton, UK: Evening Talks at a Museum of Natural History 15/11
The Booth Museum of Natural History hosted an evening of talks to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the extinction of Steller’s Sea Cow for Lost Species Day. Speakers included Michael Blencowe and Sarah Ward from Sussex Wildlife Trust and Matthew Stanfield, a Lost Species Day researcher from ONCA. Talks reflected on what we can learn from the demise of Steller’s Sea Cow to prevent the loss of today’s most treasured marine megafauna.
On display were fossils of the future – plaster casts from plastic created by children in a workshop at ONCA’s Barge.
Brighton, UK: Artist Residency and Exhibition at ONCA, 1/11 – 16/12
This year for Remembrance Day for Lost Species, ONCA hosted a residency for 3 POC artists to develop new work around the theme of racial justice, environmental justice and biodiversity loss.
The selected artists were Laurèl Hadleigh, Matice Moore, and Tsai Tung Li. They shared a studio space on ONCA’s Barge at Brighton Marina before exhibiting their work at ONCA’s main gallery. The final exhibition entitled ‘Some of Us Did Not Die’ was curated by Imani Robinson and entailed painting, illustration and video.
‘In conversation with the past, the future, and each other, the work explored strategies and connections required to survive our current apocalyptic conditions. Whiteness has framed racialized bodies and knowledge as expendable, inconsequential, or hazardous to the values of empire.
Brighton, UK: Zine Making-Workshop
ONCA Gallery supervisor, communications officer & art activist Susuana Amoah facilitated a zine-making workshop as part of the RDLS exhibition programme. Participants created colourful collages inspired by the 3 POC artists’ work in the exhibition Some of Us Did Not Die. The collages were arranged together in the final zines along with information on the residency project and Remembrance Day for Lost Species.
Brighton, UK: Beach Procession for Steller’s Sea Cow, 1/12
A ritual memorial for Steller’s Sea Cow. Starting on ONCA’s Barge, adults and children gathered to hear the history of the Sea Cow told by historian Matthew Stanfield with the company of a large Sea Cow model suspended from the ceiling.
In an open circle, participants shared something they wanted to grieve for, something or someone they wanted to make a promise to for the future and something they felt grateful for.
The sea cow was then carried through the shops and restaurants of the marina, down to the beach where it was set alight and burnt to the ground in ceremony.
Photographer Zoe Childerley documented the event:
Sea cow in the window of ONCA’s barge
Brighton, UK: Stories From the Sea at ONCA’s Barge, 1/12
A drop-in workshop hosted by artists Zoe Childerley & Beckie Leach McDonald involving ocean themed activities – imagining and collecting stories of the ocean environment and of extinct and mythical sea creatures. Activities included poster and zine making, the telling of myths and legends of the sea and space to commit positive action for the ocean.
Artwork ‘Manatee Resting’ by New York-based artist Jan Harrison
Brighton, UK: Talk on Extinction and De-extinction with Dr Sadiah Qureshi 29/11/18
Dr Qureshi’s talk was a whistle-stop tour of the history of ideas about extinction – from the discovery of fossilised megabeasts in the late eighteenth century to the present-day debates about de-extinction and the future of earth’s biodiversity. The talk was followed by an interactive activity: If you could, would you bring back an extinct species? If so, which one?
The event took place during the Some of Us Did Not Die exhibition at ONCA Gallery for RDLS as part of ONCA’s residency project.
Glasgow, UK: Zine Launch and Gig, 28/11
An event to launch a zine to raise awareness of RDLS and to raise funds for Sea Shepherd UK.
Special guests included: Richard Youngs, Claquer & Catriona McKay, Electroscope, Bell Lungs, Ego Depletion, Luminous Monsters, Burnt Paw and Juana Adcock.
Huncoat, UK: Campaign Launch, 30/11
People gathered at the footbridge of Huncoat railway station to take a photograph to use for their campaign to preserve the wildlife there.
Huncoat colliery became a wildlife haven for wildflowers and butterflies after it ceased to operate in the 1960s. 21 butterfly species are present at Huncoat Colliery, 13 of which are in decline, including 2 species classed as a priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (Small Heath and White-letter Hairstreak). Huncoat Colliery has been earmarked for housing development which could be terrible news for local biodiversity, as we stand to lose an area rich in wildlife at a time when it’s more important than ever to protect the precious habitat we have left.
British Columbia, Canada: Walk for the Wild Things, 30/11
A walk from South Chesterman Beach to Frank Island to raise awareness of threatened and extinct animals as part of the International Remembrance Day for Lost Species. It was ‘a reflective opportunity to challenge the creative mind to act with hope in our commitment to nature.’
A beach fire was held afterwards at which Pacific Rim National Park warden Tanya Dowdall shared information about locally endangered species and plans to prevent extinction. A poem was also shared by poet Sherry Marr.
Wales, UK: Art installation, 19/11 – 28/12
Oriel Blodau Bach was previously an unused notice board and later became west Wales’ smallest contemporary art gallery.
For RDLS 2018, artist and co-founder of RDLS Emily Laurens exhibited her work featuring Steller’s Sea Cow.
More work by Emily Laurens:
A Steller’s sea cow diorama made from reclaimed materials by Wales-based artist Emily Laurens.
(Clay sculpture of Steller’s Sea Cow also by Emily Laurens.
Leleuvia Island, Fiji: Beach Art/ litter picking, 30/11
Plastic was collected on the beach and used to make sand art and earrings in memory of Steller’s Sea Cow and other extinct species.
Earrings by Anne O’Brien made from a plastic bottle found on the beach.
State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), Syracuse, NY, 29 Nov
St Helen’s Well, near Market Weighton, Yorkshire, 7pm Nov 30: Yorkshire Life Cairn ceremony
Devon, UK: Artist led walk, 2/12
A walk through Tungsten mine in Devon with mythogeographic walking artists Crab and Bee to commemorate the last wolves of Dartmoor in the 1780s. The event was also to raise awareness of the ongoing habitat destruction on southern Dartmoor.
Syracuse (NY), USA: Day of events at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry 29/11
ESF students, faculty and staff observed Remembrance Day for Lost Species Thursday, Nov. 29 to pause from their work and explore the stories of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures, lifeways and ecological communities.
Brian Ratcliffe, a graduate student was the principle organiser, curating a day of events centred around the themes of extinction, memory, emotion and community.
–A grief and healing ceremony: featuring music, poetry, stories, ritual and food.
–An extinction gallery: a slideshow depicting species from the region who are endangered, threatened or extinct.
–A remembrance circle: space for people to leave flowers, stones, photos, drawings, notes, candles or anything else left in a spirit of honor and remembrance.
-Letter-Writing Campaign in Defense of the Endangered Species Act
Mural creation: student artists facilitated the collective creation of a mural made from rubbish which was to result in an image of an extinct species.
-Species appreciation walk: A student led a walk across the campus, pointing out plant species along the way and telling their storie
-Film screening of Black Ash Basketry: A Story of Cultural Resilience
As part of his ‘sketch a day’ project, Adrian Ventura dedicated a sketch to the Vaquita for RDLS – a porpoise on the brink of extinction.
Charlotte Wrigley posted a photograph on twitter of her new tattoo depicting Steller’s Sea Cow to add to her collection of extinct species tattoos. (right)
Tattoo portrait of Martha, the last passenger pigeon for RDLS posted on Instagram (below) inspired by Kate Snowbird’s original painting.
London, UK: Drawing Session with Andrea Carr 30/11
‘Live drawing/ erasing’ at Studio 73
New work by artist and performer Andrea Carr. She drew the wild Atlantic salmon – a longstanding target of commercial fishing and habitat destruction – and then asked passersby in the street to rub sections of the drawing out.
Louise Pallister Louise Pallister posted a new print for RDLS 2018 on Twitter dedicated to the Thylacine, made extinct in 1936.
Brighton, UK: Remembrance swim
Cloe Ofori shared on twitter that she and others went for an ice cold swim in the sea in remembrance of Steller’s sea cow – reflecting on the “torture of extinction through the bitter cold of the water”. They then wrote pledges on stones and threw them into the water.
Svenja Meyerricks writing on ‘Remembrance, Lost Species and Parenthood’ for RDLS 2018
‘To grow a tiny person and nurture her with my body’s own milk was the most visceral reminder of my own mammalian nature and place in the wider biotic community.’
‘Moving beyond stuff and pets, the only meaningful way to love animals these days is to find our place in the wider biotic community once again with humility and awe.’
Full text here.
Sydney, Australia: thylacine office cushion
Simon from Sydney ‘drew’ a thylacine in sequins in his office’s cushion to mark Lost Species Day 2018 in hope that his colleagues would reflect on the reality of extinction with him.
Hapi and the Lost Species
Release new EP entitled ‘Human Nature Changes’ to coincide with RDLS.
Kate Tume/ Mother Eagle
New embroidery remembrance handkerchief series by Kate Tume. The first two are dedicated to the last Pyrenean Ibex (Celia, 2000) and Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island Tortoise (2012). Posted on Instagram.
Jill created a new 2D video animation of Steller’s Sea Cow disappearing in the water for RDLS 2018 and posted it on Instagram.
Kat Lyons: poetry
Kat Lyons shared a poem she wrote thinking about extinction for RDLS on Instagram. The title is ‘Ghosts on My Tongue’
Chris Lochner exhibited his botanical illustrations of extinct and endangered plant species at Verge Exhibition in Australia which coincided with RDLS 2018. The image depicts The Pink Satyr, an endangered species of orchid.
Glasgow, UK: An Urban Dive 30/11
‘Urban Divers continued their research into climate destabilisation and marine biodiversity loss with a dive down Buchanan St, Glasgow. Wading through Black Friday remnants they searched for the 90% of large fish lost in the last 50 years due to human activity.’ (@LostSpeciesDay)
The Clearing, a UK-based magazine, recently published a special issue devoted to extinction and endangered life in honour of Lost Species Day. Here are the essays.
“Absolutely [global warming is] reversible. There’s no question about it … but hope has to pass the sobriety test and walk a pretty straight line to reality. Otherwise, it’s delusion.”
Paul Hawken, author and founder at Project Drawdown, Interview at Regenerative Development Conference
In 2014, Glaciologist Eric Rignot suggested that there may yet be a chance to slow down the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s rapid irreversible decline and “a different level of communication” is required to translate the gravity of what he and his peers see.
The Vow 2 Act emphasizes that role modeling helpful action is the primary different level of communication needed. And is written by Extinction Witness founder and creative director Megan Hollingsworth as a practice response to Eric Rignot’s call.
The Vow language is grounded in the knowledge that the ecological health crisis is driven by a human health crisis. And awareness that the roots of the human health crisis are the spiritual crises of materialism, entitlement, and punitive judgment.
The results of brutal competition complicated by materialism are in. Whether or not we personally experience scarcity, this is a globally scarce moment that calls for compassionate intention, frugality, efficiency, and ingenuity.
Someone living in New York, where over 11,000 children under the age of 6 live in the shelter system, need not visit Yemen or Ghana to see the child’s deprivation brought by cruel socioeconomic practices generations-old.
While the words used and stories told matter, actions are effective only so far as the intention that forms the basis of the actions.
“ …Unfortunately, the Brazilian people, elite and masses alike, were generally unprepared to evaluate the transition critically; and so tossed about by the force of the contending contradictions, they began to fall into sectarian positions instead of opting for radical solutions.”
Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness, 1973
Vow 2 Act signatories vow to be a different level of communication by thought, word, and all other actions. This, a true “radicalization” of the individual toward truly radical solutions to collective ills.
Vow signatories commit to rebellion in the purest sense. Rebellion as honesty, compassion, and kindness.
Rebellion as the ability to see one’s own propensity for ignorance and refrain from ignorance. To see one’s own propensity for greed and refrain from greed. To see one’s own propensity for hatred and refrain from hatred.
Rebellion as the ability to practice compassion toward oneself and all others by thought, word, and hand that every expression and exchange display and promote compassion with kindness.
Streaked Bombardier beetle photo c/o Craig Slawson, Buglife
Sonia Boyce, MBE is a British artist, activist, curator and academic whose work features decolonial, participatory and ecological themes. She began working in the 1980s and quickly became a central figure in the black British art scene at the time – in 1987 she was the first black female artist to be exhibited at the Tate.
Her work began as an exploration of self and her position and visibility as a black British woman in contemporary British society. From observations of her race and gender, Boyce’s work has opened up to become more collaborative, encouraging discussions of similar themes.
One piece of work that chimes with Remembrance Day for Lost Species is Boyce’s recent commission to work on the Crossrail Elizabeth line near the docks in the east London borough of Newham, the area where the artist grew up. It will be the longest artwork in the UK, a mural that stretches 1.8km through Custom House, Silvertown and Woolwich. The theme of the mural is a kind of local ecology. Earlier this year, she worked with local residents as part of the research process, through oral histories and knowledge evolving from pub quizzes. This cooperative process is a defining feature of Boyce’s work and feeds into a decolonial theme of art being created by the people it is for; grassroots rather than top-down.
Boyce has said that she is interested in place and “site specific” work. In her proposal video for the Crossrail mural which Boyce of course won, she cites the London docklands as “the gateway to Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world” in terms of empire and trade. She is particularly interested in the people that live in and have passed through the docks and their relationship with British culture.
Boyce has woven local species into the mural. In her conversation with Frieze Magazine, she talks about a species of bombadier beetle which is found exclusively in the docks and its connection with the history of the place. In 2006 a colony of 61 Streaked bombadier beetles was rediscovered in the docklands after having been presumed extinct since 1928. This has led to concerns about protecting the areas of brownfield land in East London – prime land for developers and the “upscaling” and inevitable extinction of local communities, human or otherwise.
Since the 1990s, Boyce’s work has evolved with participation as a defining feature. Boyce herself considers this important and central to her method; visible in the way that she worked with Newham residents and community groups to create the Crossrail mural. Looking through a geopolitical lens, the timing of the Elizabeth line is problematic. Boroughs like Newham, previously a working-class, disenfranchised area, are now witnessing an unprecedented period of gentrification. Crossrail, which prides itself on connecting London and the South East, seems opportune and provokes questions about why it is only now that South East London is being connected to central London with a “state-of-the-art” railway.
With this in mind, Boyce’s process, working with local people and communities, relates directly to one of the issues that Remembrance Day for Lost Species seeks to consider: exploring stories of cultures driven to extinction by unjust power structures. The mural not only remembers but celebrates the history of the area in all its forms, of people, of local flora and fauna, and of the diverse cultures which have created what it has been and will be.
Another example of Boyce’s work as starting a dialogue is her “takeover” of Manchester Art Gallery in January of this year. It involved collaboration to discuss two controversial paintings, one of which, Hylas and the Nymphs (by John William Waterhouse, 1896), features unsettling portrayals of women. Boyce started a dialogue about this piece and gender binary representations with a local drag group and museum staff, which culminated in on-site performances, an art piece in itself. During Boyce’s takeover, the painting was temporarily removed, which caused a furore about censorship, criticisms which Boyce has addressed in her conversation with the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins.
Boyce’s work promotes conversation and thoughts about local communities’ role in creating art and questioning structures of power. Remembrance Day for Lost Species goes far beyond the animals and plants themselves, and seeks to bring the themes that Boyce discusses in her work – of race, class, gender and how the identities within these classifications are being threatened – to the fore.
Cloe Ofori is a writer and researcher based in Brighton, England.
For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.
And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project. This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.
Both practices are types of excarnation, whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice of air sacrifice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has completely degenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.
I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence. The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.
I began to research animals on the IUCN Red List that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats. My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.
Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad
The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.
The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.
Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat
One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.
A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.
This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.
Kate Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand-embroidery techniques. Kate’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species.