Chippendale Tree Veneration Project
Louise Fowler-Smith, director of Imaging the Land International Research Initiative (ILIRI ) is proposing a collaborative venture between Sydney Council and her institute to celebrates the multi–cultural nature of our population, at the same time as raising awareness for our most important asset - the environment.
"If we are truly a multi - cultural city, then why not show this visibly. Can we bring some of the important rituals of our cross - cultural society to the fore?" Louise.
Here is what she has to say about it:
"My proposition explores a tradition/ritual that has occurred in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and to some extent Muslim societies for centuries – the veneration of Trees.
I am presently writing a book on “Sacred Trees in India”, the research for which has enabled me to travel to India on numerous occasions and photograph hundreds of examples of how people decorate trees as an aspect of ritual or worship. In India trees are worshipped (to this day) by tribal animistic people and are considered the abode of the Gods by many other religions, especially Hinduism.
Over the decades this practice has effected cultural change. The tree is perceived differently, it is seen as a form that houses the sacred, thus is protected. Even the most rapacious Indian businessman would not dare to cut down the sacred tree, which is recognized through its adornment.
To walk through the natural environment and stumble across one of these transformed trees can be a profound experience for the beholder. Involving all the senses, it is a living art that is available for everyone, without the slightest sense of elitism.
Contemporary western society, however has tended to relate to the tree from either an economic or a conservationist perspective. Deforestation has been defended because it provides jobs and assists the economy.
What is needed is a change of consciousness towards our natural world, and perhaps we can learn from ancient cultures to enable this change.
How we perceive and contemplate the land affects how we treat the land. If we see the land as separate from ourselves we are less likely to honour and respect it.
I propose forming a group of artists who will select “special” trees in Sydney and, with the permission of Council, decorate them with an array of natural pigments, ribbons, cloth, bells and various other paraphernalia - making the tree visibly special. I have spoken with arboriculturists to ensure any materials used would not hurt the tree, and in fact would be interested in collaborating with Environmental Services to find pigments that would actually enrich the tree, at the same time as looking beautiful.
A small plaque could be left at the base of the tree that explains the cross- cultural practice at the same time as drawing people’s attention to the importance of the tree to our survival.
Materials used could be sourced from places like ‘reverse garbage’- and would all be recycled.
The decoration of a tree can really enliven a place, so Council could chose specific sites that perhaps are underprivileged visually for artistic enhancement, in the first instance. The group could ultimately have decorated trees dotted strategically all over Sydney – so that each time people see one of these venerated trees they begin to associate differently with them. How they think about the tree would be enhanced by the information on the accompanying plaque.
I envisage these sites becoming meeting places and areas of contemplation, as they are in India. They could also become collaborative, with the local environment contributing a specific form of decoration (decided by the artistic group) after making a wish. This is also a practice that occurs widely in India-called wish fulfilling trees.
Apart from enabling a cultural shift in how our society perceives the natural world, this practice could also help to break down barriers between different cultural groups, offering an insight to Hindu culture at the very minimum.
It may also bring a sense of ritual -something that Australians sadly have not grown up with - to our city.
Because we know that the planting, and more importantly the retention of trees is essential to climate change- my proposal would address two of the “challenges” for the focus areas of Sustainable Sydney 2030
1) How should the Sydney community respond to Climate Change?
2) How best can Sydney celebrate its cultural vitality, creativity and diversity?"
Decorated Trees at Louise's backyard:
Community get together to celebrate the recent decorating of the beautiful Jacaranda tree in the grounds of Pine Street Creative Arts Centre, 64 Pine St, Chippendale this Sunday 26/June at 1:30pm!
Louise is a teacher at COFA and has been bringing a group of her students to Pine Street to decorate (or venerate) our tree. It will be completed this week! Advice and approval was sought from the Manager of the City of Sydney's Parks and Trees Facilities prior to the work commencing.
The group call themselves "The Decorators Branch of the Tree Veneration Society". Their aim is to celebrate multicultural values, by using a technique used in many other (mainly Hindu) countries, as well as to draw people's attention to the environmental value of trees. In short, to encourage respect of trees. This is the first tree in Sydney to be venerated - and it is in our own backyard!
The eventual aim is to have a venerated tree in each street of Chippendale. Input from the local community is vital to the project - each street could, in essence, 'vote' for their favorite tree, and Louise's team would decorate it (with help from locals more than welcome).
"These tree could act like meeting places for every street - but we want the community to be involved" says Louise.
How cool is that?