One wall, the ‘Green Wall’ which includes my earth emotions contribution, in one of IMMA’s alcoves at night, part of Navine G Dossos’ co-created murals ‘Kind Words Can Never Die’, commissioned for the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham Royal Hospital, Dublin. Photo Navine G Dossos, Instagram, July 2022
Launched over a month ago, in this post I reflect on the social power of visualising our ecological emotions through artist Navine G. Dossos’ Kind Words Can Never Die wall murals, now on display for all visitors around the colonnade courtyard of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, for several years. This vibrant, vitalising colour field also encircled and energised many of the events for IMMA’s inaugural Earth Rising – a 3-day ecoart festival 21-23 October 2022, both visually and symbolically. I had the honour to mentor Navine in ecoliteracy and witness her developing thoughts ahead of and during her workshops at IMMA for this ambitious commission for IMMA.
I also want to share Navine and Director of IMMA Annie Fletcher’s conversation (see below) from the celebration launch of this significant symbolic work at Ireland’s premiere national museum for contemporary art. (For those of you not living in Ireland, IMMA is housed in the former The Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a 17th-century building modelled on Les Invalides in Paris. It was erected between 1680 and 1684 by a charter of King Charles II as a home for old, sick and disabled soldiers).
Creativity Guided by Intentions for a Better World is Rising
In reflecting on Navine’s work, I share what I and others working in the ecological art field have known for many decades – that there is under-acknowledged vitalising social power in ecoliterate, holistic values-led creativity to foster inclusive dialogue for these urgent and unprecedented times.
This rising field of creative activity embraces the complexity and dynamism of life. Because it is holistic and welcomes many ways of knowing and has a propensity for creative collaboration, it necessitates a profound shift in creative education to acquire ecoliteracy.
Ecoliteracy arising in the creative sector mirrors the immense shift in global education in recent decades – to empower all citizens with learning for just, equitable sustainable living, over erroneous, mindless individualism and ecocidal aims for infinite economic growth on a finite planet.
Ecoliteracy is about empowering creatives with a holistic context, language and guiding integrated (ecosocial) principles for this immense societal shift. Ecoliteracy does not instrumentalise the arts but helps us appreciate that more Earth-aligned, life-sustaining cultures that endure, always cherish ecologically wise creative activity. This is how their creativity reminds their communities how to live well with others and the wider community of life. Why this is important? Well, it’s beyond humbling to reflect that 85% of the most biodiverse remaining regions in the world are tended by Indigenous peoples whose creativity fosters a skilful ecofluency that we all so desperately need to acquire. And ecoliteracy is not about appropriating others’ more ecofluent cultural practices, although they can inspire us greatly. No, ecoliteracy for our modern culture, if it is to endure, is more about slowing down to reflect how our heritage, our home places and most importantly our lived experience – and accrued spiritual learnings – might offer us the very wisdom we need to re-indigenise ourselves to live well with our places, other peoples and the wider community of life.
Thus it has been a tremendous delight to get to know Navine’s work this summer and witness up close her great achievement in visualising, gathering and speaking our vitalising Earth Emotions. Especially as our emotions, as well as our rationality, must be employed to help us recognise and cultivate more empowering, compassionate behaviour, so we can more skilfully coordinate our actions for a better world.
Visualising Our Vitalising Earth Emotions
Ahead of Navine painting the final murals on IMMA’s walls, over several weekends in July 2022 she created welcoming workshops at IMMA to present her ideas and to invite many people to select words to express their emotional responses to the ecological emergency (I was a participant in one of the workshops). We were excited to find ourselves co-creating Navine’s emotional colour palettes for her final large-scale murals.
During these workshops, Navine sensitively and skilfully invited participants to mix a palette of colours to signify the range of emotions they feel around the ecological emergency. Our workshops began when Navine read the simple Gaia Meditation from eco-philosopher and educator Joanna Macy (whose eco-education work and writings are known to many people in the ecological art field) and deep ecologist John Seed. (I invite you to read more about Navine’s other inspirations, including theosophy, in the IMMA magazine here)).
Navine then asked us to choose emotional words, our ‘Kind Words [that] Can Never Die’ and use the provided mural paints to mix colours to represent our emotions. We then used our palettes to ‘colour in’ well-known diagrams that Navine had collected from science, economics and sustainability education. For me, this felt great, to personalise and overcome the dominance of scientific representations of the ecological emergency, especially when we come to understand that the ecological emergency is fundamentally a spiritual crisis, where our cultural priorities have unwittingly alienated so many of us from caring for the life support systems on Earth. We are beginning to realise that facts alone accumulating over the last 50 years are failing to galvanise public behaviour change on the scale needed to address the ecological emergency
Navine then re-presented these emotional diagrams at a wall-sized scale; all our individual emotional colour responses, our ‘Kind Words’ that we must remember, now sing out as a beautiful co-created encircling mural, covering the inner collonaded courtyard walls of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (the murals were publically launched 28 July 2022).
I was a participant in one of Navine’s workshops and you can see my process of choosing and mixing a palette to reflect my Earth Emotions above. Most of the photos above are mine, apart from some of the workshop photos (by Louis Hough)
How my ‘portrait’ “Cathy’s Love” developed through Navine’s workshop into part of the murals Navince painted. I loved I was on the Green Wall 🙂 This flowing symbol represents all the donor countries in the world, giving to less economically developed countries. Above you can see a reference to the great ecological activist, scholar and educator Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects” spiral for the Great Turning (the yellow dandelion image), which has been a key framework for many of my Haumea ecoversity learners).
Below you can see me and Navine and her young son reacting enthusiastically to the ‘lotus’ diagram of the 4 Pillars of the peoples’ Earth Charter. (Past learners of the Haumea Ecoversity Earth Charter course, who have travelled with me to learn about this unsurpassed, UNESCO-endorsed civil society-created document that is the peoples’ Earth Charter (2000) will appreciate my surprise and delight to find Navine had included it among the symbols that are now embedded into the structural fabric of IMMA’s colonnade. For those unfamiliar with the principles of the Earth Charter, its principles from so many peoples and cultures are an excellent means for art organisations and for us all to communicate shared common values for a better world 🙂
Work that resonates so strongly with many people, like Navine’s Kind Words Can Never Die murals, rests on a lot of creative research and skill. Navine has an MA in Symbolic Art and many years of creative practice experience. It was while Navine was researching the potential of visualising our emotions for these beyond urgent times that she contacted me out of the blue for ecological mentoring from Greece, as she saw my name in the Australian ecological philosopher Glenn Albrecht’s popular book Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (2019).
In my ecoliteracy teaching for creatives and cultural professionals, I find Albrecht’s new words for universal Earth emotions help many creatives communicate their grief about our current culture whilst also providing new words and caring, compassionate concepts to reimagine and re-enchant cultural activity, so their work promotes equitable, just and sustainable living.
For those of you who have followed my Hollywood Forest Story or who have joined me in our Haumea Ecoversity Essential Ecoliteracy course, you will know I have long followed Glenn’s work as an inspiration to understand the social power of his newly coined words, like ‘soliphilia’ to describe how people who care for place and community (as happened in my forest-art workings ), act for new practices and policies to advance personal, collective, intergenerational and planetary wellbeing. Glenn’s work has been featured in National Geographic and over some decades, his terms have become known in diverse spheres, such as eco-psychotherapy and law. Some of his words have been used in legal situations as people battle to safeguard their environments. In particular, his new words and overarching terms for a fairer, thriving ecological era, like the ‘Symbiocene’ – where we create and live and work for all beings thriving, help many people describe and communicate their choices to direct their diverse creative efforts for a better more beautiful world (rather than contribute further to the atrocities of the Anthropocene).
However, while culture (which includes creative practice) is belatedly recognised as the new 4th pillar of sustainability because it has the potential to inclusively engage and inspire diverse communities for an equitable and sustainable era, it is disempowering that much civil discourse about new cultural directions is dominated by scientists, politicians and the media. As a former scientist and supporter of politicians’ and environmentalists’ difficult work, I fully appreciate the efforts in trying to engage societal change through facts and figures and policy, but increasingly divisive, corrosive discourse seems to be the result.
In fact, I was thinking about this when Navine ended her talk with the Director of Imma at the launch of ‘Kind Words Can Never Die‘. Movingly. Navine spoke and listed all the coloured emotional ‘words’ naming each person from her workshop and their visualised coloured emotion that are now embedded and transmitting deeper universal wisdom from IMMA’s walls. This I found so powerful as during Navine’s month-long residency at IMMA, I strongly sensed these kinder, barely considered emotions of great beauty and compassion, are absent from the angry, polarising public debates on the Irish media during July 2022. This was when politicians, scientists, and farmers dominated the airwaves about setting carbon emission targets for the farming sector.
Why is acknowledging beautiful emotions vital in these beyond-urgent times?
When only parts, and often privileged sections of a society debate, the rest of us feel unheard. If the language is complex and unimaginative we are further disempowered, and many of us turn away. If we pause and reflect, we’d realise any debate for such an immense cultural shift must foster skilful inclusive dialogue around commonly shared environmental and social values. It’s frustrating that ecological artists, and some social scientists and cultural geographers, have long known that informed creatives, in their independent ways can enrich civil discourse. Their meaningful, relevant real-world experiences could galvanise diverse audiences and communities to live well with others and the wider community of life.
A couple of days after Navine’s mural was publically launched I read a new post from Glenn Albrecht, a draft essay that he is working on. I had to smile when he shared his conclusion as I think Navine’s collaborative work answers his concerns:
‘As I age into my late 60s, I worry that the scale and complexity of this world are now so great that it is leading to what I call ‘meuacide’, or the extinction of our emotions, especially our positive ones. […] At this point, I have empathy for the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, when he argued, “[s]o in the end when one is doing philosophy one gets to the point where one would just like to emit an inarticulate sound” (Wittgenstein 1974, p 93). Maybe that, or its manifestation is my own version of what the artist Edvard Munch called a “great infinite scream” passing through nature when describing his famous painting. ‘
To me, Navine and all the people in her workshop are transmitting an alternative great infinite scream for all of the following empowering Earth Emotions. Earth Emotions that we must never forget and that we need to hear and communicate more often.
Thank you so much Navine for the joy of working and learning with you! And for the invitation to paint again! Fancy having the opportunity to share my earth emotions and a sense of the Earth Charter with many others in such a unique way.
Hello! Kia Ora! My name
is Cathy Fitzgerald.
I’m a New
Zealander, living in rural
Ireland, the home of my ancestors, these past 25 years. Since 2019, I have offered ecoliteracy training to 250+ creative professionals in Ireland and internationally.
“In these urgent times, I’m passionate
about bringing ecoliteracy including
new ecological thinking, values,
language and head-heart-body
practices in empowering
to the creative and wider cultural
sector. Creative and cultural sector
professionals have a crucial
leadership role if informed and
supported. They can employ their
social inclusivity and creativity skills
to inspire diverse communities to
envision and embrace new
understandings, values and actions
for a more beautiful and just world.
Dr Cathy Fitzgerald
Ecological artist for the ongoing Hollywood Forest Story (begun 2008), Advisor for Creative Drummin Carlow Bog project, Accredited ESD* Earth Charter educator | researcher | advisor & mentor.
In 2022, Cathy was nominated by Earth Charter International, UNESCO Chair for ESD as Earth Charter Focal Point Communicator for Ireland.
*ESD is the UN-mandated shift in global formal and lifelong learning toward Education for Sustainable Development