Featured Painting: New Guinea Cradle: Cultures evolve, change and disappear, much as species do. The future of the Huli and other peoples of Papua New Guinea is as much tied to the land as the future of the island’s other famous inhabitants, the Birds of Paradise.
As the population of the planet expands like a black hole attached to an elastic band, it gets harder to ignore the threat of overpopulation and globalisation knocking on the front door. As an artist, I’d never really been a fan of people; I was always far more interested in animals, but recently (since I created the Endangered Peoples paintings) I’ve given people a lot more thought.
If our planet is in danger of drowning in its own success, it’s not only the animals great and small that will suffer. People will too, and in fact, they already are. Languages are being lost among the baggage carousels and social media channels; traditional body art and decoration has been supplemented with Nike trainers, and the Gol (the land-diving traditional of the people of Pentecost Island in the South Pacific) has become a hip way to make a landmark bridge more interesting.
Small pockets of local cultures are numerous, yes, and they aren’t in short supply either; the island of New Guinea has over 6,000 spoken languages alone, but in the same way that the loss of a small and seemingly insignificant ant will effect the health and prosperity of a whole biome, so too will the loss of these unique pockets of civilisation, those that have not yet succumb to the wrath of Facebook.
Where people rely on the land and animals for their daily needs; from milk to food, clothing and transportation, as well as for indigenous customs, rituals and currency, it is not any one part of it that should be protected. We need to start looking at the bigger picture, and stop singling out any particular habitat or species. The case of the Black Lion Tamarin endemic to São Paulo, a classic example. Only rediscovered in 1970 after being considered extinct, this charming little primate is very much on the red list towards extinction in the very near future, despite best efforts to save it. The issue is less about saving the primates and more about saving the environment that sustains them. The same goes for the numerous tribes that inhabit this ever-shrinking dot of green on the map of wheat fields and industrialisation; protect the land, protect the people and protect its animals too.