Once largely ignored beyond their local contexts, the ecological concerns of indigenous groups now register to broad international constituencies, in both public and scientific arenas, as they increasingly align with evidence of our planet’s precarity – and its volatility – as a life-sustaining system. This presentation traces the ways in which environmental concerns have been broached in recent indigenous performances, while also suggesting the global arena in which such concerns play out, sometimes contentiously. I will begin with a brief discussion of the 2015 People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs in London and the UN Climate Summit held in Paris shortly afterwards. Both events featured indigenous protests covered by international media, and acted, however temporarily, as new public nodes in a loosely configured global network manifesting the eco-political resurgence of indigenous communities. Within this broad canvass, my focus then segues to two creative works that take on the artistic labour of environmental activism: an interactive installation, Ars Longa, Vita Brevis! Sinking Islands, Unsinkable Art, created by Kiribati community members for the 2017 Venice Biennale, and Cut the Sky (2015), a multi-dimensional performance staged in Europe, Canada and Australia by intercultural dance-theatre company Marrugeku. The first issues a plea for collective action on global warming while also enacting the quiet resilience of the island nation’s inhabitants; the second choreographs a haunting vision of extreme weather events, tempered by the insights of Aboriginal knowledge systems. Both show that environmental justice is crucial not only for the wellbeing of the marginalised but also for humanity as a whole. Discussion of these works’ distinctive campaigns for climate action will be informed by Rob Nixon’s theorisations of incremental ecosystem destruction as a ‘slow violence’ dispersed across time and space.
Image | Impacts of coastal erosion and drought on coconut palms in Eita, Tarawa, Kiribati