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On ecological justice and broken objects

2019 - 2021

An ethnography of material culture that explores the extent to which the ethnographic collections of the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam can effectively and democratically contribute to ecological discussions.

 

MY ROLE

I am collaborating with the Research Center of Material Culture as a Research Associate. As such, I design and initiate research projects that circle around social and climate justice. My research approach is characterized by a creative ethnographic approach, for example using walking interviews, visual data, storytelling and fiction. In this way, I encourage learning by drawing on research collaboration and creativity. That is why, at times, I see myself more as a facilitator rather than a researcher. I hope that by introducing unconventional viewpoints to achieving a more sustainable future through new forms of collective narration I can act as an agent of change. 

Context

On ecological justice and broken objects is a series of ethnographies around broken objects at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.  The aim is to explore how we can gain a deeper understanding of the current ecological crisis and imagine a better future through creative engagement with colonial objects; in this case a Buddha’s head belonging to the Buddhist complex of Borobudur (Central Java, Indonesia) but taken to the Netherlands under colonial rule. By tracing her “social lives” and literally stepping in her shoes,  we were able to gain more understanding of how the extractive forces at play under colonialism are the same as in consumerism and ecocide. This awareness shaped our dreams about a better future. Overall, we learned not only about climate and social injustices, but also how we feel about it and where our hopes for a better future lie. Part of my findings were presented and summarized in form of storytelling and spoken word which quote and bring together the voice of all participants in one narrative. Below you can read some excerpts.

 

Memories of a wounded healer

(..)

Help me find the words to express the pain felt at  the death of my life outside a glass case.

It is everything, it is about more than me. 

Can you understand?

It‌’s the lack of respect for growing and living things

that leads to a lack of respect for humans too.

This is the result of coloniality.

Coloniality has broken everything.

Culturally. Physically. Everything.

Here and there.

Yesterday, today and so far, also tomorrow.


Indonesia changed its flag.

A new muslim nation arise.

Yet the culture of the white men stayed.

The market and national economic interests and property rights replaced the old colonial armies.

Two villages were destroyed.

Borobudur became a tourist national park.

A money-making machine. 

I call it egotourism.

All and any violence is justified for economic profit.

Fertile lands were lost.

And so are the graves of our people.

We waste water and loose forests to make space for luxury hotels.

We are broken. 

Borobudur tourist attraction. Borobudur  something to consume.

Whilst Borobudur is, first and foremost, a broken mandala.

A Buddha’s head. An ethnographic object.

Whilst first and foremost, I am a millions of mantra paratha. 

The extreme of disconnectedness is to think of mind and body set apart,

of human creation split from nature,

of objects set apart from their original context. 

(...)

 

If you listen carefully you can see it coming

(..)

In the future there are no more legal and illegal people.

Just people.

We live together sharing shelter, healthy food, clean air and water.

And tell the stories of the ancestors that built museums and locked away precious object

from cultures by murdering the people that created them and kept them alive.


Education is designed under the principles of co-creating and sharing.

Sharing experiences, ideas, and emotions.

To not forget who we are and how we are but a part of a greater whole.


We are one.

We are everything that surrounds us.

We no longer chop trees. 

We work less.

We produce less.

We waste less.

We fly less.

We are back to basics.

It's actually pretty simple like the simplicity of life.

We have moved from economy “the naming of things” to ecologic “the logical valuing of things”.

We have adjusted our systems of survival to the natural logic.


This future is here.

And if you listen carefully, you can see it coming.