Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic has carved a giant SOS message into an Indonesian palm oil plantation, as part of a campaign on the impact of such plantations on tribal communities and endangered species.
The giant SOS signal, which the artist completed last month, runs for about a half-kilometre inside a plantation in North Sumatra, and can be seen from the air. It is expected that the land will be replanted with native tree species.
Environmentalists say land-clearing for agricultural plantations in Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, is responsible for forest destruction.
The SOS sign, part of Ernest Zacharevic’s Save Our Souls campaign, aims to draw attention the damage being done by deforestation, in an area where forest cover has dropped by nearly a quarter since 1990.
These forests are often in remote areas long inhabited by indigenous peoples, who may not have documents proving ownership or be able to contest land acquisitions in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.
The forests are also home to dwindling wildlife populations. There are only about 14,600 orangutans remaining in the wild in Sumatra, conservationists estimate.
Ernest Zacharevic said: “We are all contributing to the destructive effects of unsustainable palm oil, whether it is by consuming products or supporting policies that affect the trade.
“We, as consumers, are so detached from the source of our commodities that we are no longer able to see the consequences of our daily choices.
“I wanted to communicate the magnitude of the problem. This project is an effort to appeal to the consciousness of a wider audience.”
The canvas for Ernest Zacharevic’s latest intervention was an oil palm plantation, land almost totally devoid of wildlife, directly next to the Leuser Ecosystem – the only place in the world where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist.
In order to restore the land for wildlife, the removal of oil palm trees was necessary in this case. Seizing the opportunity to send a dramatic message, armed with ribbons, a drone and a chainsaw wielding crew, Ernest Zacharevic and his team worked across approximately 20 hectares, carving a giant distress call into the landscape of the plantation, by selectively removing oil palms to spell out the letters SOS.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea