Ghost Forest is a major art installation consisting of 10 primary rainforest tree stumps which were brought to Europe from a commercially logged forest in Western Africa by the artist Angela Palmer (www.angelaspalmer.com). The work is intended to highlight the alarming depletion of the world's natural resources, and in particular the continued rate of deforestation. Today, a tropical forest the size of a football pitch is destroyed every four seconds, impacting on climate, biodiversity and the livelihoods of indigenous people. The trees in Ghost Forest - most of which fell naturally in storms - are intended to represent rainforest trees worldwide; the absence of their trunks is presented as a metaphor for the removal of the world's lungs caused through the loss of our forests.
The tree stumps were exhibited as a “ghost forest” in Trafalgar Square in London last November, and then in Copenhagen in December during the UN's Climate Change Conference. From 9th July 2010 to 31st July 2011, Ghost Forest will be exhibited for a year on the lawn of Oxford University's Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. The exhibition will coincide with the Museum of Natural History's 150th anniversary this year, and the UN's International Year of Biodiversity. In 2011 it is the UN's International Year of Forests.
In the last 50 years, Ghana has lost 90 per cent of its primary rainforest; the World Bank estimates that 60 per cent of that was through illegal logging. However, in the last decade Ghana has been making strenuous efforts to control and manage its surviving rainforests. Last year Ghana became the first country to enter into a VPA (Voluntary Partnership Agreement) with the EU. Under this agreement all timber exported to the EU must be legally harvested. In return, the EU provides Ghana with funding for the collection of timber taxes and the enforcement of legal compliance in the timber industry. This follows what appears to be a fairly consistent attempt over the years to halt deforestation: in 1994, the government in Ghana banned the export of raw logs, encouraged reforestation in degraded areas and put 15 per cent of land under protection.
It is generally recognised however that illegal logging remains widespread, and it is hoped and expected (even by hard-line environmentalists) that the new EU initiative will slow illicit export of timber. In addition, Ghana was selected by the World Bank to receive funds to conserve its rainforests under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility – a precursor to REDD (Reducing Emissions from Reforestation and Degradation) which is aimed at rewarding countries with carbon credits from the West in return for preserving their forest cover. This will be high on the agenda in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Change Conference.
The stumps in Ghost Forest will come with the help of the logging company John Bitar from a fully licensed concession in Western Ghana. The company has a published policy on both Sustainable Forestry and Social Responsibility. It operates a forest certification programme and a Chain of Custody tracking system. Ghassan Bitar, who runs the company, works in collaboration with WWF, Ghana’s Wildlife Wood Project, the EU and the Zoological Society of London and various conservation and community programmes.
Ghassan was instrumental in designing the agreement for Ghana’s VPA with the EU, and this year he began one of the world’s largest private reforestation programmes, which involves planting 25 million trees on degraded land over the next five years.
The Stool of Queen Asantuah
During research for Ghost Forest, artist Angela Palmer found, through an extraordinary coincidence, an Ashanti stool belonging to the tribe’s famous warrior queen. It came up by chance in her local auction house. It transpires the stool has a deep, spiritual meaning to the Ashanti, whose homeland is where the artist sourced the trees for the Ghost Forest project. The stool is also made, of course, from the timber of a rainforest tree.
Below is an extract from an article Angela Palmer wrote for the Financial Times.
Anxious for a break from my usual reading matter on climate change, I fell upon a catalogue from a local auction house, my eye caught by Lot 406: “A historically interesting Ashanti stool”, bearing a silver plaque on its seat engraved with the words: “Taken from the compound of Queen Asantuah at Ojesu, W Africa, by HBW Russell CMG. 30th of August 1900.”
On the flight to Accra, I’d been mugging up on Ghana’s history and had just been reading about the Ashanti, for whom the stool is the “symbol of the soul of the nation”; the “symbolic source of all kingly power and authority”. The most sacred is the Golden Stool – the Ashanti throne. By tradition, no Ashanti king or queen is allowed to sit on the Golden Stool and it must be held aloft – it should never touch the ground.
At the time HBW Russell “took” one of Queen Asantuah’s stools, he was private secretary to Major James Willcocks, commanding officer of the British Ashanti Field Force. In March 1900, Sir Frederick Hodgson, the colonial British governor, went to Kumasi, seat of the Ashanti nation, and demanded the surrender of the Golden Stool in the name of the Queen of England. “Where is the Golden Stool?” he asked the Ashanti chiefs, “Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? … Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool, to give it to me to sit upon?”
When the Ashanti refused, Hodgson dispatched his officers to terrorise villagers into disclosing its hiding place. On one occasion, British troops brutally beat children who refused to reveal where their fathers were. An incensed Queen Asantuah mobilised her troops to lay siege to the British mission in Kumasi.
After several months the cordon was broken when the British dispatched extra relief troops from the south and the Ashanti were quashed. Tribal land was confiscated and plundered, the queen captured and exiled to the Seychelles, where she died. But the British troops never found the stool and today it is under high security in the Ashanti palace in Kumasi.