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  • Art can help students understand the world around them. It can take many forms such as sculpture, paint, sound, abstract, light, real life, models, digital formats and many more. All these modes can be used to help people decipher scientific concepts – to make the unseen world and complicated concepts visible. Art also helps us connect with places and living things that we would not normally be able to see in person.

    Developing projects

    Projects and ideas are often generated through curiosity. The concept of art has changed through the centuries – its purpose has been defined as representing reality, communicating emotions or ideas, creating a sense of beauty, exploring the nature of perception, exploring formal elements for their own sake or simply being non-existent. Using art to engage people as well as learning about science and conservation is a powerful alignment of two sectors.

    In 2019, Joseph Michael and the Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence produced Amazon – Raised Up Sky – a fusion of art and science that takes viewers to the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The project was made into a documentary along with a national tour.

    The Majestic Samaúma project is a deeper exploration of one of the trees that had been scanned during the initial project. The samaúma (Ceiba pentandra, English common name: kapok) is known as the queen among the trees in the Amazon. Samaúma live for up to 300 years, with a height of 70 metres, trunk circumference/diameter of 2 metres and roots spreading to a radius of 150 metres! The samaúma is a sacred tree for approximately 500 Amerindian tribes.

    Collaboration between Joseph Michael, academics, scientists and indigenous peoples from Aotearoa New Zealand and Brazil have contributed to the creation of an interactive 3D tool. Stand-alone short films dive deeper into themes of global citizenship through interviews with the experts involved.

    Art meets science

    Art and science have much in common – for example, creativity, wonderment, exploring ideas, in-depth investigations and trialling new ways of doing things. The Majestic Samaúma is a project that is embedded in art but is also pushing the boundaries of technology to create an opportunity for people to make meaning of science.

    The Majestic Samaúma uses drone-captured photogrammetry of significant Amazonian samaúma trees. Footage was used to create an interactive digital artwork that can be viewed as a 3D animated model. It takes viewers on a journey deep into the scientific and spiritual currents of the Amazon rainforest.

    This ‘art meets science’ resource allows the user to understand the life processes of the tree – from its canopy branches to its internal nutrient flow and relationship with soil microbes.

    Art and conservation

    How to get people engaged with a conservation issue – or any socio-ecological challenge that is not right on their doorstep or directly impacting their lives – is a question many conservationists ask. For people to engage in a particular issue or conservation cause that they cannot personally see, touch or experience is challenging. Art allows for emotional connections – it can bring the majestic elements of nature to everyday people.

    The artist has to reflect that ‘everything is alive’.

    Araquém Alcântara, Brazilian photographer

    Projects such as this one highlight the need for art and science to bring connection between humanity and nature and call for more voices to chronicle the Amazon’s beauty and destruction.

    Taking action

    Action is different to participating in activities – taking action leads to a result/change/impact as well as learning. Taking action enables people to feel empowered and able to make a difference and provides a sense of hope.

    If we lose the Amazon, we lose Gaia.

    Antonio Donato Nobre, Earth Systems Researcher

    Developing action-taking skills enables the development of science capital – science knowledge, attitudes, skills and experiences. It also provides students with the opportunity to see themselves in science.

    Nature of socio-ecological challenge

    Amazon – Raised Up Sky and The Majestic Samaúma are in essence action projects embedded in art and communication for the purpose of raising the visibility and understanding of a global socio-ecological issue – the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. Artist Joseph Michael has used art to engage and inspire people to take further actions.

    Related content

    Indigenous perspectives – giants of the forests uses sacred trees – Tāne Mahuta and the Amazon rainforest’s majestic samaúma – to explore indigenous connections with the environment.

    Ngā rākau ❘ Trees curates beautifully illustrated bilingual resources – including Word downloads exclusively in te reo Māori.

    New Zealand native trees – an introduction curates articles, activities and media. It also includes an interactive planning pathway that groups Hub resources into key science and teaching concepts.

    This video talks about the importance of ensuring ākonga | students maintain hope.

    Art can be a powerful tool for environmental connection. Meet artist Gabby O’Connor who is applying a creative lens to science communication and education.

    The webinar Understanding science through drama looks at using the arts to enhance student understanding of science concepts, the nature of science and socio-scientific issues.

    Use our Pinterest board Visual arts and science for further inspiration on ways to include both art and science in your teaching.

    Activity ideas

    These titles from the Connected instructional series showcase student and/or community action inspired by a local interest or issue.

    Useful links

    Visit Joseph Michael’s website to learn more about Amazon – Raised Up Sky.

    Visit the Ārko website to read about the technical aspects used to create Amazon – Raised Up Sky.

    The Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence website provides further background to the international collaboration behind Amazon – Raised Up Sky.

    Visit The Majestic Samaúma to experience the majestic samaúma, read about the tree and watch the short films.


    The videos featured in this article and The Majestic Samaúma 3D interactive have been created by artist Joseph Michael with the support of the Latin America Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence.

      Published 14 December 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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