During my dissertation, I explored the work of Alberto Baraya, and specifically his piece Herbarium of Artificial Plants. This work is of specific relevance to me and my practice, specifically in relation to my Degree Project The Endangered Plant Index, as throughout the project, I have been using herbarium documentation in order to create illustrations of the most endangered plants; bringing them into the public psyche.
What I find particularly fascinating about Baraya’s work is the fact that it uses and subverts the traditional model of the herbarium and botanist – using this model to create a statement about colonialism. and specifically the impact that colonial science had on the colonised lands.
Throughout the work, Baraya has taken practices that are easily identifiable as being those of western, colonial scientists and botanists, and then used them to his own ends in a contemporary context, which re-contextualises these practices and makes the viewer question them and the reason they are happening. The practice most relevant to my degree project (and which is pictured above), is his method of display, in which he emulated a museum display, similar to that of the Natural History Museum in London (see below). This for me is very interesting, as it reinforces the image and perception of the continuation of the past atrocity. But it is occurring in a way which is measured and chosen by Baraya to have a conscious impact on the viewer, rather than having a careless, detrimental effect on the people who live in and around the area where he made the work:
“replicating the tradition of botanical … expeditions that were carried out in Europe in the name of science and colonization.” (Nara Roesler Gallery. 2022).
The similarities between his and the traditional method of display is striking and, I believe, achieves a successful critique of the highly questionable methods of colonial scientists working in the field. The legacy of colonialism is something that the botanical sector (and whole scientific community) must face and explore – acknowledging the atrocities that occurred for the sake of new scientific and botanical discoveries – which is part of the delivery of climate justice.
According to a BBC article written by Jocelyn Timperley in 2021:
“Climate justice means many things to many people, but at its core is the recognition that those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change tend not to be those most responsible for causing it. Climate change is not only an environmental problem: it interacts with social systems, privileges and embedded injustices, and affects people of different class, race, gender, geography and generation unequally. The climate solutions proposed by climate justice advocates aim to address long-standing systemic injustices.” Timperley, J. (2021)
This definition establishes the interplay between the climate crisis and all other crises in the world – as the climate crisis is held up and enforced by the legacy of colonialism, rampant capitalism and neo-colonialism – which are the main causes of inequality and injustice in the world.
- Baraya, A. (2013 – 2014) Herbarium of Artificial Plants. [Insitallation]. Installation View 8th Berlin Biennale. Available at: https://www.berlindrawingroom.com/alberto-barayas-herbarium-of-artificial-plants/
- Trustees of the Natural History Museum (N.D) Natural history galleries are often filled with male specimens that have big, showy characteristics ©. Available at: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2019/october/more-male-than-female-specimens-in-natural-history-collections.html
- Timperley, J. (2021) The world’s fight for ‘climate justice’. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211103-the-countries-calling-for-climate-justice