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Marie Smith is a visual artist and writer who was born, lives and works in London. Her practice incorporates text and photography as a form of visual language and her experience with anxiety and depression has informed how she addresses identity, nature, environmentalism, mental health and wellbeing. Having graduated with an MA in History in Art with Photography from Birkbeck, Marie is an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and Portsmouth University.
Describe the nature around you at this moment…
It’s a bright and warm day and my flat is full of houseplants that are looking a bit more alive now that spring is approaching and they are getting more light. The plants vary from succulents, cacti and dripping plants that are descending down my two bookshelves.
If I look to my left, I can look outside of my window and see a varied skyline - I live on 4th floor so there is a lot to see. The main thing I can see is the trees, that have been dormant since winter, are starting to produce new leaves and flowers. You can see they are in the early stages as the branches are still prominent but I know in a month or so they will be full of green leaves that create a blanket from the main road which is very busy. I can see a windmill and that always startles me as I kinda forget it’s there - but it’s a nice reminder of the history of the area.
How would you describe your nature connection?
An ongoing process, I still think I have a lot to learn about what nature is and its relationship to me. I think that I’m questioning what nature is in terms of how it’s been defined through history and the cultural significance it has on my identity. I feel that my kinship to nature is stronger now than it was when I was younger and I think that I am trying to explore this relationship more in my artistic practice. I am finding that I am provoking more questions than answers at the moment so my connection to nature is very much a dialogue and one that is proving to be both beneficial and challenging for me.
Where do you feel most at ease?
Probably going for a walk with my camera, I always try to find a balance between being present and capturing what’s around me. However, having my camera forces me to look a bit harder and not see nature as an objective space. I am particularly fascinated with trees and the way that they take up so much space and make me think about the history of the space.
Your work focuses on identity, nature, environmentalism and climate change. How can photography help us think and act more collectively?
This is a question that I am asking myself constantly. I think beyond representing the nature visually I am now thinking about the process of making the images - for example the darkroom process and I have made changes to my way of working to be more considerate towards nature. I am not using chemicals anymore to develop my work which means that I am no longer working with colour analogue film.
This methodology has made me more conscious of what I am doing and my impact and kinship with nature and the environment. I am trying to start a dialogue with my photography, I don’t tend to seek clear answers as the subject matter is complex and constantly evolving and photography can be used to further that discourse.
I have also been thinking about how I can collaborate with people more, providing them with space to create their own artwork or using their words to have agency over how they are represented. I would prefer to use my practice to provide discourse rather than force my opinion but I think many communities, in particular communities of colour, are alienated from this subject matter so I do feel that it’s important to consider their thoughts and concerns.
Is there anything you’re curious about right now?
I am currently researching and will be creating a new body of work that documents people of colour’s lived experiences of living in rural areas. The focus will be on the New Forest and Hampshire. Within the project I will be asking people to make artworks so I am curious about the process of collaborations and also my role as this is an artist led project. I will have to change and amend my ways of working and this provokes curiosity in my process as an artist.
What’s your top tip?
Have good footwear, bring water and ensure that your phone is fully charged. These are the main things that I would suggest if you’re going to be spending a long time in nature. I would try and be present, so perhaps this will mean that you are limiting interaction with devices for example, and embrace slowness.
What kind of ancestor do you want to be?
I would want to be considered as someone who resonates with people. I would like to be the ancestor that could be seen as someone with an altruistic outlook.
What inspires you every day?
The potential in my artwork. This keeps me motivated and I know that I have a lot of answers to seek. I am motivated by research and meeting people who will provide me with new insights and ways of thinking.
What are you reading, watching or listening to?
I am currently listening to a really good podcast at the moment, by Human Resources, which looks at the impact and legacy of the UK’s involvement in transatlantic slavery and colonialism. The podcast does not only focus on England’s role but also investigates Wales and Scotland’s role in transatlantic slavery. I would highly recommend it as the narration and research are excellent.
Book-wise I am reading a lot of short stories, poetry and prose-led writing at the moment - in particular books published by Prototype Publishers. I Just finished a book by Jen Calleja, I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For and I will be reading The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven next. I listen to a lot of music, especially when I am at home writing and researching, and I always listen to NTS Radio - more so than anything else these days.
Could you suggest someone else or an organisation you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind?
Aster Reem David or Joanne Coates - both excellent artists who have an intrinsic connection to nature whilst providing provocative insights into the communities that exist there (whether that be people or microcosms that exist in the landscape).
Louis VI isn't one to sit on the sidelines, he aims to help give BIPOC communities a voice on climate justice. On his second album EARTHLING, the London rapper and climate activist is directly challenging the colonial legacy of climate change. Travelling to the Amazon gathering field recordings, giving speeches at COP26 and making award-winning shorts, his album condenses these experiences around his own Dominican heritage. EARTHLING is packed with nature-fuelled field recordings from Amazon storms, to UK forests and tropical birds on Mexican coasts. It’s also stacked full of features from the friends and musicians that surround Louis - including Lex Amor, Oscar Jerome, Moses Boyd, Bluestaeb, Alex Cosmo Blake and Mick Jenkins.
Photo credits: Carlos Martí @carlosmart1 and Dylan James Moore
Naomi researches how dynamic cultures interact with food and farming practices through migration. She is the author of the recently released report on racial justice in farming in the UK, Jumping Fences, a collaboration between Land In Our Names, Ecological Land Cooperative and Landworkers’ Alliance, funded by Farming the Future. The report presents the experiences of Black and POC farmers and growers in Britain.
She is also a gardener, ecologist, singer and educator.
The 'Jumping Fences' Report: Land, Food and Racial Justice in Britain
Rooting en route: how migration can fix a broken food system
Moïse Polobi is a 69-year-old musician from Guadeloupe. He’s been singing and sounding his djembé-like Gwo ka drums since childhood, heart-beating the memory of his ancestors. He was drawn to the drums of the léwoz (traditional rural music performances in Martinique and Guadeloupe), performing and singing with different Gwo Ka groups, throwing himself into a trance through hypnotic dance.
Polobi & the Gwo Ka Masters’ latest album, Abri Cyclonique, is out now (17 February 2023) on Real World Records. Drawing inspiration from the heart of the tropical forest, the mystical character of Polobi and his musicians collaborate with idiosyncratic producer Doctor L (Les Amazones d’Afrique, Mbongwana Star), forging a radical new take on the Gwo Ka musical tradition. An electro-acoustic palette and offbeat rhythms adorn these deeply rooted Creole songs.
Images by Karen Paulina Biswell
Tej is the assistant food grower and The Seed Saving Network coordinator at OmVed Gardens, a gardener, scholar and interdisciplinary artist. His thinking weaves together various strands, including growing and being in 'nature' as an act of centring wellbeing; the power of social movements in our present time of several overlapping climate and social crises and ways of being and bearing witness to a world fundamentally changed by anthropogenic climate change. In the pre-pandemic world, Tej pursued formal training in Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, while there were parts of that world he enjoyed, he never felt at peace. The pandemic, like for countless others, forced him to pause and rethink, leading him to refind gardening and growing.
Jo is a freelance digital marketing consultant and owner of an allotment plot in a local community garden where she enjoys growing her own food. She is the social media editor for Where the Leaves Fall and OmVed Gardens. Before joining the team, she most recently worked at Global Citizen as International Marketing Director, working on some of their biggest campaigns to end extreme poverty, including music festivals in London, New York, Paris and Johannesburg. She lives in north London with her partner and two cats. Images by Thom Podmore.
Rosanna Morris' linocut and woodcut illustrations are traditional yet contemporary, delicately floral and yet full of the power and strength of revolution. She studied illustration in London and works from her studio in the southwest of England. When not drawing or creating prints you can find her working her allotment or tending to her three wild children. The illustrations below were created for the Landworker’s Alliance On Common Ground Calendar 2023.
Claire Ratinon is an organic food grower and writer based in East Sussex. She has worked in a range of roles from growing produce for the Ottolenghi restaurant, Rovi to delivering growing workshops and talks to audiences including East London primary schools, community centres and educational institutions. Claire is passionate about the act of growing plants - especially edible ones - and the potential for it to be nourishing, connecting and healing. Her second book Unearthed: On Race and Roots, and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong was released in June 2022. Portraits by Christian Cassiel / @christiancassiel
Madeleine Bazil is a multidisciplinary artist and writer interested in memory, intimacy and the ways we navigate worlds - real and imagined. She is also the editor of Where the Leaves Fall’s Sunday slow-read newsletter, The Rhizome. Raised in the US and educated in the UK, Madeleine currently lives and works in South Africa.
Ameena Rojee is a portrait and documentary photographer who enjoys telling stories about adventure, the outdoors and our relationship with the natural world. Ameena is also the editor of the Where the Leaves Fall newsletter The Weekly Round Up.
Becky Lyon is an English x Jamaican artist and ‘artecologist’ exploring how art practice can re-body us back into the animate, vibrant, tangly messwork of our ecology. She is interested in ecology as an alternative curriculum or sourcebook for inhabiting the Earth in ways that foster more co-flourishing and care and challenge the logic of "dominion" at the sour core of multiple injustices.
Her work manifests in multiple forms from tactile installations to rituals, sensory artefacts and word-foolery. She hosts participatory gatherings of and for all kinds - from dead wood walking trails to summer-scented gatherings around the fire; touchy-feely seminars and reading groups that rip B|T|W|N THE L|AV|S.
She is a ranger for London National Park City supporting grassroots organisations and hoping to re-enchant the perception of urban ecology through creativity. An inherent discipline-smoosher, she has a MA in art & science from Central Saint Martins and is currently studying for a MA in art & ecology at Goldsmiths.
Judith Alder is a British visual artist with a multi-faceted practice, working across a range of media and processes informed by science. Her work is directed by her premise on the process of evolution in the 21st century; that scientists can create and manipulate biological life, technologists are creating artificial life, inanimate objects often appear to take on a life of their own, and some things seem to be neither dead nor alive.
She has exhibited in The Freud Museum, London and Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne and was shortlisted for The Jerwood Drawing Prize 2012. In 2015 she was nominated for The Drawing Room Bursary Award. Her solo Vital Signs, curated by Sanna Moore, will be held at The Royal Society of Birmingham Artists Gallery from 14 to 25 February 2023 and has been funded by Arts Council, England.
Sui Searle (she/her) is a gardener, writer and printmaker. She has worked in botanic, public, private and community gardens as well as having spent a short period writing for gardening magazines. She is the founder of @decolonisethegarden which focuses on bringing a decolonial lens and anti-racism perspective to horticulture and is editor of the online gardening newsletter, Radicle.
Talia Woodin is a youth activist, photographer and filmmaker based in the UK. She’s spent the past four years organising with various campaigns within the climate and environmental movement, including spending a year living on and documenting the frontline environmental defence campaign against HS2 (a destructive high-speed rail infrastructure project). She has recently re-released her debut short documentary COP-out, exploring the youth climate justice movement's participation with COP and is currently organising with The Resistance Exhibition.
Love Ssega is a musician and artist. He is currently Artist in Residence for Philharmonia Orchestra and his work as the original frontman and founding songwriter for Clean Bandit landed in the UK charts and has also been performed globally. The multi-arts 2021 commission ‘Airs of the South Circular’, highlights the impact of air on the Black community in South London, and reached 100,000 of his local London Borough of Lewisham’s 300,000 residents.
His Live + Breathe campaign in saw Love Ssega collaborate with local community groups in Southwark and Lambeth and record a new piece ‘Capes For Blue Skies’ with the Philharmonia Orchestra. As a result of his work and advocacy, he was invited to speak at United Nations COP26 in Glasgow. Love Ssega is currently a Trustee of Shadwell Opera, Brian Eno-led music climate initiative EarthPercent and was also awarded the Arts Foundation Music For Change Fellowship in 2022. (Photo credits: Ben Millar Cole and Sophie Harbinson)
Born and raised in France, Alice is an artist and Modern Languages postgraduate student at the University of Oxford. Alice started sharing her drawings after being diagnosed with autism and ADHD, she aims to break stereotypes about gender, age, and race that surround autism and cause a lot of misunderstanding. She is the founder and president of the UCL autism society and has been involved in numerous talks and campaigns about neurodiversity, autistic women and mental health.
Talia Chain founded Sadeh, the UK's Jewish farm and land-based community in 2017. As the director, Talia's role includes working on the land, teaching on Sadeh Farm's fellowship programme, running education and volunteer sessions and fundraising for Sadeh's environmental and educational projects. She is currently raising £100,000 for Sadeh Farm to increase access to nature for all.
David Reeve is the co-editor and co-founder of Where the Leaves Fall magazine and a filmmaker with various music videos and films, including Y/our Music and Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith, under his belt.
Ruth Andrade from Lush's Regenerative Impact team, has a masters in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies. She is a trustee and co-founder of Re.Alliance, a collective of practitioners bringing regenerative design to the humanitarian and development sectors; and a co-creator of Regenerosity, an initiative with a mission to flow resources, enable learning and share stories to grow the regenerative movement in partnership with funders and grassroots initiatives. Originally from Brazil, Ruth grew up in a concrete jungle, witnessing first-hand the destruction of the natural environment which prompted an early interest in environmental issues and fuelled a great passion for driving change.
Dr Delfina Fantini van Ditmar is a biologist, design researcher and Senior Lecturer at the Royal College of Art. Her practice is concerned with ecological thinking, reflective practices, epistemological paradigms and alternative futures. Delfina has been a visiting lecturer in several institutions, including The Bartlett, Architectural Association, Manchester School of Art, University of Brighton and the University for the Creative Arts among others. As a part of the Design Museum and Future Observatory's Design Researchers in Residence Programme, Delfina is responding to environmental collapse from a systemic perspective with research examining dematerialisation. Portrait by Pierre Bailly and exhibition photographs by Felix Speller.
Samuel Iliffe is a design engineer focused on the use of innovative materials and processes to address everyday problems. As a part of the Future Observatory Design Researchers in Residence programme hosted by the Design Museum, Samuel is exploring the issue of water pollution and eutrophication in the UK, with a focus on the role that algae play. Photographs courtesy The Design Museum.
Niellah Arboine is a writer, editor and broadcaster born and raised in south London. She is an original member of gal-dem and the deputy editor at Where the Leaves Fall. Niellah has written for the likes of Vogue, Guardian, House & Garden, Vice and Time Out London. She has contributed to Daunt Books’ In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing, and was shortlisted for the Nan Shepherd Prize 2021 for nature writing.
Will is a photographer, producer and director who works across several fields from music photography to commercial film production. He is a member of Forest Studio, a boutique creative studio based in east London. He enjoys long-distance running, improv comedy and owls.
Ellen is a public speaker, activist and guerrilla gardener who founded Nature is a Human Right, the campaign to make access to green space a universal right. She also edited the book Nature is a Human Right: Why We're Fighting For Green in a Grey World (DK 2022) and founded Dream Green, the social enterprise that empowers people to become guerrilla gardeners.
Masha Karpushina is a Moscow born, London-raised illustrator and mural artist interested in the real and the surreal. She is driven by the power of nature, the beauty within man and beast, traditions of past generations and the essence of love.
Susanna Grant is a planting designer who specialises in plants for shady spaces. She runs Linda, a dappled courtyard space in London’s Hackney that sells shade-loving plants for sills, balconies, courtyards and gardens. She has also written the Bloom Gardener's Guide - Shade - Work with the light, grow the right plants, bring dark corners to life. Portrait by Aloha Bonser Shaw.
Darren Appiagyei is a woodturner based in London, UK. He graduated from UAL Camberwell College of The Arts where he studied 3D design. His practice is about embracing the intrinsic beauty of wood, be it knot, bark or grain. Photos by Will Hearle and Thomas Broadhead.
Tijana Lukovic is a Belgium based illustrator whose artworks contain traces of folklore, mythology and a love for nature. Her images are rooted in the changing seasons and her inner world as she explores the forest of her childhood memories.
Lisa-Marie Price is a London based abstract painter who explores the connection between nature, people and place. Her methodical style is created using handmade watercolour sourced from natural pigment foraged from both urban and rural settings, forging a unique connection between the land and her paintings.
Jini Reddy is a writer and journalist, and is the author of Wanderland which was shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year, and for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing. She’s also contributed to the landmark anthology Women on Nature, and before that, Winter. As a journalist and travel writer, Jini has written for publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, the Independent, TIME magazine, National Geographic Traveller, Resurgence and the Ecologist, and in 2019 was named one of National Geographic’s Women of Impact.
Jini has also written several texts for Where the Leaves Fall - her writing occupying a cross-genre space where place, spirituality, nature and culture meet.
Alice Vincent started to share her journey into gardening in 2014 with Noughticulture and has since written the books How to Grow Stuff: Easy, No-Stress Gardening for Beginners (2017) and Rootbound: Rewilding a Life (2020), and written and read the audio guide Seeds from Scratch (2020).
Photographs by Camilla Jørvad, except the balcony and book cover images which are by Alice Vincent.
Zayaan Khan is an artist whose work finds a resting place through food as a means of understanding the world, particularly seed, land and our collective heritage. Her Instagram page notes that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and she also runs the Seed Biblioteek - reconnecting seed with story, towards resilience and sovereignty. As she notes: "Seed is our land, heritage and future".
Kwesia is a young changemaker and the creator of the video series City Girl in Nature - on a mission to engage young people from disadvantaged communities living in inner cities to connect with nature. Growing up in Deptford, South East London, an area where people have often been neglected, excluded, and marginalised, Kwesia experienced family trauma and homelessness when she was 17, while struggling with her mental health and well-being.
After joining a life changing expedition by the British Exploring Society to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest in 2018, where she spent three weeks in a remote part of the jungle learning to live in the outdoors, Kwesia decided to create City Girl in Nature, as a way to give back to her community. Kwesia is now on a mission to share her love for the outdoors and connect with other young people, who are nature-deprived and excluded from such experiences, and support them on their own pathways to healing and self-discovery.
Will Burns was named as one of the Faber and Faber New Poets for 2014. His first full collection, Country Music, was published in 2020, and his debut novel, The Paper Lantern, was published in July 2021. He was named as one of The Observer’s Top 10 Debut Novelists of 2021 and is the OmVed Gardens poet in residence.
Amelia Rouse is from Barbados. While she studied civil engineering, her first love is illustration and she produces beautiful work in pen and ink with an emphasis on nature. She’s been illustrating for Where the Leaves Fall since issue #3.
Oluwaseyi Oso is a Nigerian writer, poet, singer/songwriter, and photography enthusiast. His writing and poems often touch on environmental and human rights issues.
We asked Oluwaseyi about his connection to nature, how nature guides his practice and how storytelling can shape our collective conscious.
Jo March is the Head of the Creative and No Waste Kitchen at Omved Gardens. Growing up in a farming family, passionate about cooking, gardening and regenerative food growing, Jo has later rediscovered preservation and fermentation while trying to slow down and commit to a low waste lifestyle. From her favourite ingredient to experiment with at the moment, to what inspires her the most and her top three zero waste hacks in the kitchen, Jo has shared it all with us.
Maia Magoga is a visual artist, cook and food grower from London, UK. With a Brazilian and Argentinian heritage, Maia has become fascinated by food’s potential to nurture a sense of belonging and initiate conversations around ecology and ancestral knowledge. Her practice focuses on the relationship between human and nonhuman nature and the intangible flows of exchange between human and environment, body and land. We talked with Maia about the lessons she learned in nature, the rituals she practice to keep her grounded and how food can help us to think and act more collectively.
Vicky Chown is a medical herbalist, forager and gardener. She teaches permaculture and urban food growing in Queen’s Wood Community Garden and OmVed Gardens in London - where she also co-organises The Seed Saving Network - a biodiverse community of seed savers in London and across the United Kingdom.
Vicky also co-runs, alongside Kim Walker, The Handmade Apothecary, a foraging and herbal educational project. Together they have co-authored two books: The Handmade Apothecary and The Herbal Remedy Handbook.
Karen Leason is the director and founder of OmVed Gardens, a garden, exhibition space and sustainable food project in north London, which aims to re-establish the connection between the urban population, food and nature.
A partner of the UN World Food Programme and Chefs Manifesto, OmVed aims to educate and inspire conversations around sustainable food practices and ecological transformations. Committed to foster creativity and community-led change, OmVed Gardens plays host to an inspiring collective of artists, creatives, horticulturalists and chefs. Follow @omvedgardens to find out more and join their upcoming events.