Saudi Artist Abdulnasser Gharem is surviving on oxygen released by this tree in the Gulf.

If you’ve ever had a plastic bag around your face, even for a second, you will know how quickly it cuts off the oxygen supply. Depending on your character, this can result in immediate panic, or in my case, extreme violence until the idiot who put the bag there in the first place gets it off!

Which is why Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem’s exhibit for the 8th Sharjah Biennale is so surprising. Gharem wrapped plastic around imported Cornocarpus Erectus trees and then stepped inside one of them, relying only on oxygen released from the tree for survival. This exhibit was shown in 2007, but we definitely think its message is still relevant today.

Just north of neighboring Dubai, Sharjah is one of the seven Emirates along the Gulf shore that at one time enjoyed an intrinsic relationship with nature. But runaway development has put the entire region under strain.

Gharem wanted to reinstate that relationship for every day Emiratis by installing his exhibit called Fauna and Flora in full view of those who might not attend a “fancy” biennale.

“People thought I was crazy,” he said. “But they wanted to know more. Their minds are not closed so they came over to ask about it. When they understood it, they liked it.”

The Sharjah municipality imported a pile of these crowned trees from Australia since they were known to stay green all year round and to produce “impressive amounts of oxygen,” according to the design brief.

But no one predicted that these trees would instead wreak ecological havoc on existing trees. Whereas many of Sharjah’s own species have long vertical roots, the Australian trees have horizontal roots that have disturbed the desert flora.

This daring exhibit calls attention to the city’s folly, and begs architects and urban planners to increase their awareness of environmental factors when considering new developments.

"What’s important are the lessons for the future. Our architects and planners need to consider the environment more carefully in their designs. Our technology needs to accelerate in this sense. We need a philosophical analysis of the relationship between the technological and the natural. You can see this especially when you look at our water situation. It’s not good. More and more of our wells are drying up so we need to conserve more water as well as pollute less."

Saudis aren’t usually celebrated for their keen environmental awareness, which is partially what makes this exhibit so special. Stay tuned for more from the talented Abdulnasser Gharem.

Image courtesy of Abdulnasser Gharem

Finding Halal Food Should Not Be Hard