PICKING a shell up from the beach, or a leaf or feather in the bush, for the mantelpiece back home connects people to the environment, says artist and ethno-ecologist Professor Anthony Cunningham.
“[It] reflects our need to feel a sense of place and regain an appreciation of the wonder of the natural world.
“From a tiny iconic object is a story…and you think about habitat and nesting sites.”
It’s this micro appreciation that leads to the macro, saving the planet from exploitation, Cunningham says.
“We have the ability to absolutely destroy our planet…but we can work to prevent that.”
Cunningham’s latest exhibition Sense of Place, at Kidogo Arthouse, is a collection of beautiful, labour-intensive prints showing in micro-detail feathers, shells and leaves, along with blue manna crabs and rock lobsters.
Another shows the yellow flowering gum from seed to flower, from green leaves to brown dying ones in a swirl like a snow storm: “You’re almost looking at the life cycle,” Cunningham says.
His art weaves together an acute observation of nature and an unusual sense of design, coupled with training as a scientist.
The limited edition giclee (inkjet) prints are on Hahnemuhle paper from Germany, said to be good for 200 years.
Born in southern Africa in 1957, Cunningham has had a lifelong interest in art and the environment.
When the White Gum Valley local is not printmaking he’s advising governments around the world on balancing environmental concerns against commercial imperatives, particularly when it comes to clear-felling for timber and crops.
For 25 years he’s worked in Africa, Nepal and India, headed up an ethno-ecology course at the University of Hawaii and more recently been invited by the Chinese government to advise it on deforestation.
With a deep appreciation and understanding of Africa, Cunningham has spent years working with local tribes to promote industries to counter those that destroy the environment.
Sense of Place – Bush & Beach is on at Kidogo Arthouse, Bathers Beach, Fremantle until Feb 26.
by JENNY D’ANGER