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Not their time to go.

The quiet, visual protests of CARE artists bring a unique and challenging dialogue to key environmental issues.

Nov 11, 2021


Words: Lesley Duxbury
Images: Supplied

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Long before the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires, Dawn Stubbs, an artist and passionate environmentalist, had been an ardent advocate for Australian wildlife.

In early 2019, Dawn initiated CARE (Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction) as a reaction to the destruction around her; the willful logging of old-growth forests and applications for mining leases in the habitats of native fauna are just two examples of environmental vandalism that make Dawn’s blood boil.

When she sent out the call for artists to join her in communicating their environmental concerns, dozens of local artists quickly responded. CARE has now grown into a vibrant collective of spirited artists and craftspeople of all persuasions: from painters to ceramicists, textile artists to sculptors and all artforms in between.

Dawn’s first project was to fabricate an oversized, papier mâché dodo egg that opened to reveal dozens of small-scale paintings, drawings and prints of endangered flora and fauna created by a number of the artists.

On completion, a delegation of six artists took the egg to Parliament House and presented it to the Honorable Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment, as a statement highlighting their concerns about the neglect of the environment by those in government who are responsible for it.

“...just two examples of environmental vandalism that make Dawn’s blood boil.”

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The dodo egg triggered tremendous support for Dawn from Gippsland artists – a clear indication of growing local concern for the state of the environment.

The searing autumn and summer of 2019/2020, when the worst-on-record bushfires incinerated over three billion native creatures and laid waste to their habitats, was a call to (creative) action.

Although devastating to humans and non-humans alike, the fires sparked an ambitious project. Still stunned by the magnitude of the catastrophic fires, Dawn had an idea to flood the region with simultaneous exhibitions with the title of ‘EMERGENCY – Species Loss’ to draw attention to the plight of native fauna and flora, and their potentially looming extinction.

Almost 100 artists quickly reacted to her appeal. A productive cooperation between seven Gippsland galleries was initiated for the exhibitions to take place in late 2020. Unfortunately, all the exhibitions were postponed due to COVID-19, the virus bringing the world to a standstill.

Undeterred by a mere pandemic, Dawn persisted and when the turmoil settled in March, during a small window of opportunity when Victoria was not in lockdown, over 50 artists were able to exhibit their heartfelt work at the East Gippsland Art Gallery, Bairnsdale.

This exhibition received great accolades from the general public as well as some deeply felt comments and encouragement in the visitors’ book. Fortunately for the artists, organisers of CARE, gallery curators and managers, regional Victoria has not suffered the same fate as metropolitan Melbourne and the concurrent exhibitions have gone ahead. As I write this, five galleries – Gippsland Art Gallery Sale; the Great Alpine Gallery, Swifts Creek; Maffra Exhibition Space; Briagolong Art Gallery and Orbost Exhibition Space – are exhibiting EMERGENCY – Species Loss from July 24 to August 31 along with specific public presentations.

During the past few months, we have seen unprecedented, out-of-control bushfires annihilating forests and inhabited areas around the world. The emphasis of news reports has been on the impacts of the fires on humans and to date, there has been little mention of the effects on wildlife. CARE came into existence because of the concerns of local Gippsland artists over the impacts and pressures on the natural world, and the exploitation of what is left of Australia’s environment and the species that rely on it.

The quiet, visual protests of CARE artists bring a unique and challenging dialogue to the issues facing the flora and fauna of this country. Taking a philosophical, pragmatic, political and humanist approach, CARE hopes to move creative people of all persuasions, and art lovers, to be inspired, encouraged and moved to act.

Right now, CARE is needed more than ever.

Adelaide Macpherson, Looking for Home, Rufous Songlark #1.
Adelaide Macpherson, Looking for Home, Rufous Songlark #1.

Adelaide Macpherson

Why is it important for artists to act now in resisting the extinction of flora and fauna?

Artists have always played a role in reflecting the concerns of their times.

For decades, scientists and spiritual leaders have been reporting and warning on the costly future effects of our drive for economic growth, if we continue to ignore our custodian responsibilities in relation to the environment... How tempting it is to live in denial even though we experience increasing cycles of severe fires, drought, flood and more of our local flora and fauna species are added incrementally to threatened species lists.

What is the animal/plant/scene that first springs to mind when you imagine what you wish to save?

While I have a general interest in birdlife as part of my art practice, I don’t think one species of plant or animal can be isolated from another – everything is interconnected and co-dependent on another. The ramifications of deforestation have devastating consequences on not just our wildlife but soil, air, water. In his book Earth Time, David Suzuki states, “Whatever we do to the air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity, we also do to ourselves because there is no separation.”

Josephine Jakobi, Stomata.
Josephine Jakobi, Stomata.

Josephine Jakobi

Why is it important for artists to act now in resisting the extinction of flora and fauna?
Extinctions are happening now. Right now, in real-time. Australia has a sad reputation as having close to the highest flora and fauna extinction rate in the world. I am ashamed. My country, rich in resources, could be leading the world in ending environmental degradation and extinction.

What is the animal/plant/scene that first springs to mind when you imagine what you wish to save?
Plants. A self-perpetuating ecology of life support for the planet. A circular economy, essential to the balance of life on Earth. Shared habitat. The air that we breathe. The destruction of our forests is a major contributor to extinctions and to climate change. This ancient system holds the balance of all life on Earth.

Without plants, no life can exist.

How can the public assist CARE and contribute to the resistance of further extinctions?
Education follows awareness. Awareness of the Earth’s systems will lead to an understanding that it actually all works pretty well if we can minimise the harm we do. We really don’t need to fix it; we just need to stop wrecking it. Ancient, balanced, cyclic, wise: these systems deserve respect.

Regents on the Fringe, Wendy Fuessel.
Regents on the Fringe, Wendy Fuessel.

Wendy Fuessel

What was in your 'mind’s eye' when you agreed to be involved in CARE?
Artists can impact the viewer's perspective through the emotive side of extinction, which in turn encourages the average person to contemplate.

I hope we can impact public awareness to the fact that ‘if we save nature we in effect save ourselves’.

Lisa Roberts, Flying in the face of adversity.
Lisa Roberts, Flying in the face of adversity.

Lisa Roberts

What was in your 'mind’s eye' when you agreed to be involved in CARE?
We all need to be aware of what is happening right here, right now. Intact forests insulate the land and regulate the weather. Forests make rain locally and hundreds of kilometres away.

Gippsland has some of the most diverse native forests, ecosystems and waterways in the world, but right now they are being logged and burnt like there is no tomorrow.

How do you find the drive to support this cause, when our creative industries are at threat at the moment too?
In a time of uncertainty, we can reflect on what’s important, what’s precious, what needs protecting and, hopefully, speak up.

Dawn Stubbs with Sonia Grieve, Killbah.
Dawn Stubbs with Sonia Grieve, Killbah.

Dawn Stubbs

Why is it important for artists to act now in resisting the extinction of flora and fauna?
I have felt an obligation to tell the stories of our wildlife through my art for over 30 years. Just painting a colourful bird doesn't cut it. Our wildlife serves an important purpose; they’re not just there for us to enjoy.

Go back 20 years, the largest glider in the world was common in the Gippsland Forest. They’re now fighting for survival. The reason for the Crying Wombat “Killbah" is a statement on the proposed open-cut mine.

In another 20 years, will our common wombat be as scarce as our wonderful great glider?
One person's visual protest can get lost in the noise. An army of visual noise just might make people sit up and take notice.

Lesley Duxbury, Home.
Lesley Duxbury, Home.

Lesley Duxbury

Why is it important for artists to act now in resisting the extinction of flora and fauna?
The world is in a perilous state – there’s no time to lose. We live a life of false security, believing that having a good economy is the measure of health and wealth. But without the flora and fauna of the world, we are nothing, and they cannot continue to exist while we steal their habitats and ruin their environments.

How can the public assist CARE and contribute to the resistance of further extinctions?
I’d like to think the exhibitions would attract numerous visitors of all persuasions and they would take away something that they could relate to in their everyday lives and act on it.


Gippslandia - Issue No. 20

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