Land Body Ecologies
announced as winners of Wellcome Trust Hub award
Press release 21st June 2021
Land Body Ecologies announced as winners of prestigious Wellcome Trust Hub award
Land Body Ecologies Research Group are winners of the Wellcome Trust’s renowned Hub Award. The grant provides a dynamic research space in the Wellcome Collection building at the heart of London, where people with different expertise can collaborate on projects exploring health, life and art. Awardees receive up to £1 million to bring researchers and creative professionals together over a two-year collaborative residency.
The Land Body Ecologies Research Group will undertake a two-year research project that brings together a team of human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists, and artists to research the phenomenon of solastalgia. A developing field in global health, solastalgia is defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change, or commonly described as “the feeling of homesickness while you are still at home.” Through the lens of solastalgia, the project aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma on marginalised and indigenous communities.
An initiative led by interactive arts studio Invisible Flock, the group came together in the belief that to better understand the impacts of environmental change on mental health, this conversation must happen in a global intersectional space and in direct collaboration with communities with lived experiences of environmental changes to their lands. Invisible Flock are an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and recipients of the grant.
Victoria Pratt, Artist and Creative Director of Invisible Flock says:
‘Collective practice involves a constellation of knowledge where we can reframe the ethics of who creates, how and why. Our project is growing from within communities and with people, rather than for or about them. With around half of the world’s languages having no written form, art can act as a vehicle to bring forward alternative modes of expression not limited to human speech. Our approach is to tell multiple global stories at once, with the hope that through this process of entanglement, solutions, answers, and meanings are collectively conjured in the act of listening and retelling. Perhaps through this we can reach multiple solutions, a thousand threads of connection that we didn’t know existed.’
Dr Ayesha Ahmad, Senior Lecturer in Global Health at St George’s University of London and expert on trauma and therapeutic traditional storytelling interventions, says:
‘Knowing suffering is the first step to addressing the ways that such suffering is perpetuated through the environments that we live, and die, within. Traumas of the land have been buried, and the expressions of land trauma have been silenced. From a health perspective, understanding and creating spaces for suffering of the changing environments that are displacing communities and cultures is an ethical endeavour. We need to receive stories of suffering, to discover where the world's wounds are, and to guide the global mental health movement to a collective healing whereby the rupture between the environment and mental health is re-threaded with renewed ways of living, and dying.’
Samrawit Gougsa, Communications Officer at Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says:
‘Indigenous and minority communities are the least culpable in the climate crisis, yet they are suffering profoundly from the ongoing destruction to their homes and ecosystems. As communities living far from sites of power where decisions affecting their lands and environments are made, their voices are continuously disregarded. A prime example of this is the current global call to turn 30% of the world’s surface into ‘protected areas’ by 2030, which will displace hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples and traditional landowners. Why are the indigenous and minority communities who will face the repercussions of this target excluded from the decision-making table? Our project will reverse this trend of exclusion, centring the communities’ lived experiences and amplifying their voices for the world to hear.’
The research will be led by communities at the forefront of environmental and land rights issues, such as the indigenous Ogiek in Kenya, who are still seeking the return of their ancestral lands despite their historic legal victory in 2017, when the African Court of Human and Peoples Rights formally recognised their right to the Mau Forest.
Other communities guiding the project include the Sámi in Finland, the Batwa in Uganda, the Pgak’yau (Karen) in Northern Thailand, and communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National park in India. Already in relationship with the Land Body Ecologies’ network through previous collaborations, their pioneering work with environmental land rights issues will lead and shape the research.
Daniel Kobei, Executive Director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) and leader of the project’s hub in Kenya says:
‘Our community is intertwined with the lands because it links us to our ancestors and enhances our spirituality. The delay in returning our lands is having a negative impact on both the community and the environment, as unabated destruction of Mau forest is ongoing. This project comes at an important time because we are suffering by constant attempts to break our connection to our home.’
Siwakorn Odochao, a Pgak’yau (Karen) farmer and coffee producer in the Ban Nong Tao community in Northern Thailand and collaborator on the project says:
‘We and the world are one of each other. On the day human minds begin to collapse, we will see the human condition plummet as well. Adversity, violence, hardship are all caused by running away from the truth. The truth about human beings is that we are elements of the world, so we must help each other take care of the world. The more we run away from this truth, the more complicated our lives become.’
To ensure the research is anchored within the communities, the project will bring to life a live network of hubs in Northern Europe, Kenya, Uganda, India, as well as central London. These hubs will support the incorporation of local knowledge, perspectives, and lived experiences in the research, which is vital as the team seeks to better understand the traumas endured when the lands and ecosystems suffer.
Romit Raj, Principal at Quicksand and co-lead of the project's hub in the South Indian state of Karnataka says:
Local communities, including tribal populations like the Hakki Pikki and Irula, live precariously with the development activities ramping up around the Bannerghatta forest in India's Karnataka state. We fear their deep knowledge of the forest, its flora and fauna that they have nurtured over generations, their unique culture, language and traditions will all be lost due to external forces disrupting their connection to the land. Our local hub will bring forward their stories to understand the loss and trauma they are suffering as a consequence of the environmental destruction of their lands, their home.
Kaisa Kerätär" at Waria and co-lead of the hub in Northern Finland says:
‘It's important that people in the Arctic North, who personally experience environmental trauma, as well as our own researchers and artists, can join the global debate on the environment and climate change. Our Hub will be uniquely nomadic in its approach, expanding operations to a very large area in the north, because, for example, the Sámi live in the territory of four states.’
Dr Outi Autti, Senior Researcher in Arctic Architecture and Environmental Adaptation at the University of Oulu, Finland, says:
“The Lapland War destruction and postwar modernization project in Northern Finland changed the physical and cultural environment profoundly and shook the bases of human-environment relationship. Old traditional buildings were replaced by type planned houses, the rivers were dammed to produce hydropower and new roads were built to serve forest industry. Modernization increased material wellbeing, but technological and economic development do not cover all welfare. For local people, the environment is much more than a resource. The losing of significant places and landscapes was traumatizing and weakened people’s place attachment. Today, the conflicts concerning land use in Lapland continue. I believe together we can find new tools for better planning that includes local people and acknowledges their place attachment and local knowledge.”
The Land Body Ecologies Research Group is the fourth collaborative residency group in Wellcome Collection’s Hub since 2014. The project will commence in October 2021.