On Trump's Decision to Take Away Mother Nature's Artwork
by Miabelle Salzano
On Monday, December 4, the elected President of the United States, Donald Trump took it upon himself to exploit some two million acres of publicly protected land from two national monuments in Utah, decreasing Grand Staircase-Escalante by about 50% (1) and Bears Ears by a whopping 85%. (2) These lands were formally declared protected by our former President Barack Obama in order to preserve, “our Nation’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and land considered sacred by Native American tribes.” (3) Due to Trump’s known resentment towards the former president, his decision to carry out the largest reduction of land in history begs the question of whether undoing Obama’s last operation in office was an act spurred by genuine political strategy or pettiness. Let’s visit the facts:
This decision was made on the premise of the word “public,” meaning that public land is meant to be used by the public, for the public: public business, motorized vehicle transportation, etc. not for use deemed acceptable by only a certain group of people (i.e. the Native American Tribes). Utah house representatives support Trump, believing that more urban development will increase the economic state of Utah, additionally increasing the quality of life. But these monuments have become a significant source of tourism feeding local business. With the decrease in size, locals are wondering whether the monuments will be worth visiting anymore now that most of it will be presumed to be mining sites, highways, and buildings, threating the livelihood of the businesses in and around the area. (4)
Despite the Utah representative’s claims, the majority of Utahns favor the size of the monuments (5), showing that the quality of life cannot always measured by bits of paper in a vault. It’s true that money is what we need to survive in this world, but beauty is what we live for, be it freedom, truth, art, or love. Taking away the environment’s natural beauty, it’s organic artwork, is like taking away people’s right to make art or music. (Oh wait, he’s already threatened to do that before.) Is he so indifferent towards humanity that he feels the need to dispose of beauty altogether? Well, Trump doesn’t deem beauty if they don’t have large… assets. And the arts, along with land kept for its contribution to the nation’s cultural conservation, has little use to Trump regarding his number one asset-- money. But, it’s a perfect opportunity for artists to retaliate, and that is what they did.
Artist, and proud high school dropout, Ben Knight’s photograph of a life-size, fiberglass brown bear strung up by its hind leg in a tree with the words “Public Land 4 Sale” painted white across its body was originally created for an anti-Trump art show called "Unhappy Anniversary, Un-celebrating the last year," a concept thought up by friend and fellow creative Brinkley Messick. Knight gives the image of himself "dragging [the bear] across a field, awkwardly finagling it over a barbed-wire fence and then trying to quickly hoist it into the tree by myself before someone saw me from the road when the snow storm stopped;" an installation's comical inception that ended up rocking the outdoor lovers of Instagram, serving as a powerful visual representation of the inhumane affects of Trump’s actions: hanging the people and animals that live there out for dead. The manipulation of this strong, fearless, and rooted creature to a helpless and powerless one hanging at the mercy of humans is a chilling reminder of how actions like this will affect others.
Aside from the Big Bear demonstration, Knight has shown support for other conservation acts through both photography and film. Co-founder of felt soul media, Knight and his creative partner Travis Rummel strive to make films that “actually [make] you feel something,” (6) winning some forty-six awards for this in the ten years they’ve been active. A pair of scissors and 200-foot tall dotted line painted across a defunct dam in California as part of their film DamNation; shooting for brands and publications like Patagonia, National Geographic and The New York Times, FSM, and the creators behind it, focus on the importance and emotional connection brought about by the beauty of nature. So, it only makes sense that Big Bear would be one of their brainchildren. With new injustices everyday, and more feelings being felt, we can only wait to see what FSM will come up with next.
See more of felt soul media's work here.