December 26, 2014
Person of the Forest
- as seen by -Alina Bachmann
Orangutans are one of our closest and most enigmatic cousins. The name “orangutan” literally means “person of the forest” and was derived from an aboriginal belief that orangutans were humans hiding in the forest to avoid working or being made a slave. Today, orangutans are slaves to our consumerism.
Palm oil is found in one of every ten household products, from margarine and bread to lipstick and soap. It’s consumed by over a billion people around the world. It is also what’s driving the orangutan, a species with which we share roughly 97% of our genes, to extinction.
Palm oil producers are currently the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo, where orangutans reside, into plantations—an effort to meet the global demand. What makes palm oil so desirable? It’s not that it is cheap to produce, but that companies earn a profit from both the rainforest timber and from the planted crops of oil palm. As a result, palm oil is predicted to eventually be the world’s most produced, consumed, and internationally traded edible oil.
“Person of the Forest” is a work of art that I created to raise awareness of the palm oil crisis, to connect people to it, and encourage them to change their everyday habits. I designated bins in my community to collect discarded packaging listing “palm oil” or one of its many aliases as an ingredient. Using these wrappers, I collaged life-size tree forms reminiscent of the treetops of Borneo to create an immersive environment that parallels the intensity of our growing dependency on these products.
A portion of my exhibition is currently on view in the Milwaukee County Zoo’s ape house. You can also see my work online at personoftheoforest.com.
Canon Rebel XTI