Environment Europe has been invited by the United Nations to join the World Urban Forum 2020 held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, 8-13 February 2020. We were thrilled to discover that our panel on ‘Cities, Ecosystems and Climate Change: the Role of Environmental Photography in Facilitating a Transition towards Sustainability’ has been selected among 800 contributions to the conference. With an audience of 18000 diplomats, city mayors, urban planners and designers, academics and NGOs, the UN World Urban Forum has been the top global event focusing on urban sustainability since its foundation in early 2000s.
Our panel featured Peter David Farrington, a Canadian artist based in UAE, John W. Taylor, representing the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Tadashi Matsumoto representing OECD and Dr Stanislav Shmelev, Director of Environment Europe and Executive Director of Environment Europe Foundation Stichting.
One of the highlights of the panel was the case study, generously offered by Peter David Farington.
The Power of Environmental Art: The Story of How 4 Photographs Transformed an Entire City
In May 2008, Peter Farrington arrived in Oman from Canada as the Environmental Advisor to the Government of the Sultanate of Oman to help them plan a brand new industrial port city at Duqm, Oman. One month later Peter had his first encounter with Duqm’s magical Rock Garden. Instantly enchanted, he explored the site taking dozens of photographs. Upon returning to Muscat he learned that the site was to be destroyed. According to the approved Master Plan this wondrous 3×2 km area of natural sculptures was to be converted into a multi lane highway and massive utility corridor. For Peter, it was clear that the decision makers could not have been aware of the treasure they had in the Rock Garden. He immediately began seeking a way to protect this site. 9 months of trying proved fruitless.
On the morning of March 25, 2009 just days before work on the corridor was to begin, Peter submitted a 5 page proposal to the Ministry of National Economy to protect the Rock Garden. Importantly, he included 1 page of 4 artistic photos. He was told by an official that he would send it up the line and see what happens; “one never knows” he said with a shrug. “I will call you if I hear anything”.
The call from the awestruck official happened later that day. “I have never seen anything like it” he remarked. Both the Minister of National Economy and Minister of Finance had signed their copies of the proposal with the direction that the Rock Garden was not to be disturbed by the development; the Master Plan was to be changed. “It was the photos that made all the difference” Peter was told.
The next day, the Master Plan for Duqm was officially redrawn to divert the multi lane highway and utility corridor from the Rock Garden.
Over the next year Peter became an avid photographer as he continued to both explore Oman and advocate for the Rock Garden and Duqm in general. In October 2010 during an international tourism conference where Peter presented more imagery of the beautiful Rock Garden, the Government stated publicly that it was considering formally declaring this site a Protected Area. The power of environmental photography was now undeniable.
Inspired by these successes, Peter wondered what else could be learned about Duqm if it was explored through the eyes of many diverse artists. From April 20-23, 2011, Peter along with 30 international and local artists set off to explore Duqm. It was titled, “Duqm: Portraits of Discovery”. The children from 3 schools were given disposable cameras with the mission to show us what Duqm means to them.
On October 29, 2011 the exhibition, Duqm Portraits of Discovery was opened at the prestigious Bait Muzna Gallery. Accompanied by Under Secretaries from several Ministries, the Guest of Honor, Minister of Environment, spent the entire evening touring the Exhibition. The photos by the school children were a highlight. And in a rare move, the Gallery added 10 days to the exhibition at no charge.
Over the next 2 years the Rock Garden was protected. An award winning Canadian film maker joined Peter at Duqm. As well, the Master Plan for the entire Duqm Development was redone. Peter has since switched to painting, where his works have been exhibited in Oman, UAE and as far as Los Angeles. And It all started with just 4 inspired photographs and a divine encounter with a “pile of rocks”.
We are most grateful for all members of the panel who joined the discussion. We presented the ECOSYSTEMs album, http://stanislav.photography/ecosystems, launched at the Club of Rome 50th Anniversary Conference, shown at an exhibition at Oxford University and UNFCCC COP24.
This project received acknowledgement and praise from the HH Pope Francis, HRH Prince Charles, President Macron, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Government of India, former heads of IUCN, Club of Rome, European Commission DG Environment, Nobel Prize winning climate change scientists, professors from Brazil, Colombia, UK, US, Sri Lanka and other countries.
We have issued a call to the UN, city mayors and contemporary art institutions to host the ECOSYSTEM exhibition and make it a global travelling show.