University of Göttingen: Research and art connect for sustainability

Keeping the environment unspoilt, promoting social equality and strengthening sustainability – this is what connects researchers from the University of Göttingen and the university in Jambi on Sumatra with artists from Indonesia and documenta fifteen. Together, they are organising a festival in Permatang Kabau, a village on the island of Sumatra, as part of a collaboration for the contemporary art exhibition documenta, which will be held this year for the fifteenth time. The festival of Semah Bumi (balancing, serving, seeding) will feature concerts, art exhibitions and theatre performances from 12 to 13 March 2022. Starting with the question “What do we want our village to look like in twenty years?”, the participants will formulate their wishes for the future and develop common goals from the perspective of sustainability in the region.



“The holistic approach of our research offers a variety of opportunities to answer questions about sustainability and human-environment interactions from an artistic perspective,” says Professor Alexander Knohl, head of the Bioclimatology Research Group at Göttingen University. The Collaborative Research Centre EFForTS brings more than one hundred researchers from Indonesia and Göttingen together to study the changing ecological and socioeconomic functions of tropical lowland rainforests. They work to find out how the inhabitants of Sumatra can use their land more sustainably, promote biodiversity and, at the same time, meet the local needs.



The village of Pematang Kabau is the perfect spot for this: years ago there were extensive tropical forests there, but today the landscape is dominated by rubber and oil palm plantations. The effects of change are therefore also the focus of the Semah Bumi festival. “This festival connects art, science, nature and society,” says Adhari Donora from Rumah Budaya Sikukeluang, a collective of artists from Sumatra, who are responsible for the artistic conception of the festival. The artists – including Rani Jambak, Helmi Hardian, Uncle Twist and Ismet Raja Tengah Malam – and the researchers want to exchange information with the local community about the latest findings in sustainability research. In addition, they plan to initiate a long-term project, based on local experience, to mix palm oil monocultures with native tree species. Documenta fifteen is supporting this project along with many long-term sustainability projects and one euro from every documenta fifteen ticket sold will go towards these.

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