We are facing planetary ecocide on an unprecedented scale. Yet, as environmental stewards I believe direct community action can pull us back from the brink of planetary crisis. With bold and visionary leadership we can overcome the most challenging of environmental issues.
I read ‘History of Art, Archaeology, Critical and Post-Colonial theory’ at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London for my undergraduate degree. My interest in food security and sovereignty began when I worked for the ‘SOAS Common Ground’ organic community garden and food cooperative. Compiling research for the Gaia Foundation UK further exposed the social, environmental, and animal rights abuses prevalent within our global food production system.
I received a research scholarship for my thesis on the role indigenous art plays in preserving diasporic Tibetan culture and religion. This, combined with Post-Colonial Theory, Orientalism, and ‘Third-World Feminism’, led to a deeper questioning of indigenous peoples’ rights and human inter-dependency with the environs we inhabit. Since July 2010, I have worked in Japan, Italy, India, the UK, the Philippines, and Indonesia for the ICCA Consortium: a non-profit NGO seeking to promote and provide appropriate recognition and support to ICCAs (Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories). I thrive most on passionate discussions and have delivered presentations at conferences such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Association of the Study of the Commons.
I have just returned from 18 months living in Indonesia where I worked as Project Coordinator for an ICCA ‘high threat’ documentation series. My fieldwork led me to West Kalimantan to facilitate a Dayak Limbai Indigenous community create a Photo Story of their Bukit Bunyau (ICCA), of which their livelihoods and existence dependents upon. They have so far managed to protect and conserve it using generation-old customary intuitions and natural resource management practices. The experience irrefutably affirmed my belief that areas where local communities are able to independently govern and manage their natural environments (ICCAs), biological and cultural diversity is far higher when compared to areas with externally enforced conservation practices. My ultimate professional goal is to advocate policy in which endogenous approaches are adopted into mainstream conservation paradigms.
Whilst documenting the work of a community radio network and organic seed bank cooperative in India, I learnt of the rewards that small scale, community-led projects can reap. Similarly, when co-facilitating a community-made Photo Story in the Philippines, I witnessed a formidable spirit of resilience and innovation as this community fought to defend their ancestral homeland from encroaching mining companies.
Vanessa is collaborating with Kaylena Bray (2013), Yuki Yoshida (2013) and resource people Susannah McCandless and Emily Caruso on the Wellbeing Initiative funded by the Alumni Innovation Fund. She has also proposed to organise a Central Asia Regional Workshop with the Innovation Fund and in collaboration with Aziza Akhatova (2013), Saber Masoomi (2013) and resource person, Melinda Laituri.
In November 2014, Vanessa became Rural Artist in Residence for Cape Farewell where she is currently creating an exhibition and research project entitled The Milking Parlour, exploring and opening up questions about the future and current situation of milk in the UK. Since receiving the residency, Vanessa has been working with organic and small-scale dairy farmers in the South West of England, recording their stories and hearing insights about their first hand experiences.
Shortly after GESA, Vanessa became co-director for This is Rubbish: a food waste CIC which raises awareness about the preventable scale of food waste in the UK through policy research, community and arts led public events. This is Rubbish was recently awarded £65,000 for Counting What Matters’: a campaign to engage one major grocery company and four MPs in committing to piloting and advocating a one year full-supply chain food waste audit. [Updated May 2015]