Indigenous Environmental Artistic Practices Responding to Pollution: Comparative Research between Oceania and the Americas

deadline for submissions: 
April 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Université de Bretagne Occidentale, France

Second Call for Papers


International Conference

Université de Bretagne Occidentale – 4-5 November 2021


Indigenous Environmental Artistic Practices Responding to Pollution:

Comparative Research between Oceania and the Americas


Organised by Estelle Castro-Koshy, Senior Researcher, James Cook University

Géraldine Le Roux, Ass. Prof., UBO (France), James Cook University

Jean-Marc Serme, Ass. Prof. US Studies, IdA-Brest and HCTI, UBO (France)



Please note: Speakers can choose to participate virtually or in person.

The conference will be held virtually if needed.



Scientific committee members:

Tamatoa Bambridge, PSL Paris University: EPHE-UPVD-CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBE

Sophie Gergaud, Director of the Cinema Festival Alter’Natif

Lionel Larré, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Magali McDuffie, SAE Creative Media Institute, Perth
Ocean Mercier, Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka
Miguel Olmos Aguilera, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A.C.


By analysing creative practices by Indigenous artists or artists working closely with Indigenous communities, this conference aims to determine how Indigenous societies perceive and interact with pollution and toxic substances that affect their territories or environment. It examines how conceptions of waste, and its recycling, enlightens discourses on Indigenous sovereignty. We explore in particular how the notion of sovereignty – as understood, lived, and defined by Indigenous peoples – informs and influences artistic practices that respond to contemporary environmental challenges.

Social science shows a growing interest in ‘waste’, also defined as ‘discarded materials’, ‘litter’, ‘remains’ (Joulian, Tastevin & Furniss, 2016). Studies have examined what our rubbish bins say about us (Rathje & Murphy, 1992) and what recycling processes are undertaken by individuals (Duclos, 2015), artists (Laviolette, 2006) or institutions and industries. R. J. Garcier, for example, has also analysed the recycling of metal and toxic residues (2014).

This conference aims to be a platform that articulates reflections about pollution, recycling, art, and Indigenous sovereignty. It will pay particular attention to the relationships established and nurtured by Indigenous artists and communities with the ocean and water. Papers are invited to discuss these themes in relation to the following areas of study and/or questions.


Treatment, perception, recycling, and transformation of materials

We are interested in the artistic approaches deployed in or around spaces faced with different kinds of pollution and waste. How do artists speak about the journey of waste – for example due to marine currents, rivers or human actions? Is waste treated as exogamic or endogamic material? Is waste perceived as a negative effect of consumerism in society or taken as potentially interesting material that can be valued like any local natural resources? One subtle answer may be drawn from the work of Brian Jungen (Dunne-za, Canadian and Swiss) who in the early 2000s shaped recycled plastic chairs into whale skeletons, thus establishing a powerful link between the great totem animal of the Pacific Northwest and basic North American consumer society discards. In what circumstances is ‘waste’ precisely redefined as ‘material’? Géraldine Le Roux’s study (2016), for example, has demonstrated that this redefinition took place with the recycling of ghost nets in northern Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. Is this re-definition linked to an awareness of the finite nature of resources? This conference will ask how elements collected on the beach for example inspire artistic – visual, filmic, poetic – works – and how such works can become, in Flora Aurima Devatine’s words (2018), ‘re-building blocks’ that support and reveal a philosophical approach regarding the evolution of society (Tahitian society in Aurima Devatine’s context).

Proposals are invited to highlight the symbolic dimensions of these new materials, and – through the analysis of the negotiations or conflicts that surround their extraction or circulation – to unveil the values given to a territory. We welcome approaches that link the anthropology of technics and symbolic anthropology, as well as studies about the way artists position themselves in relation to pollution and waste left behind by large mining projects (in New-Caledonia-Kanaky or in Australia for example). Participants can address cases in which the artists’ reinvestment and reclamation of a contaminated site serve to express their communities’ continuing occupation of a territory and thus a form of sovereignty. Photographer Will Wilson comes to mind with his ‘Dineh (Navajo) post-apocalyptic man’ surviving in an environment made ‘toxic’ not only by uranium contamination, but more generally by the colonialism that has been imposed in America for several centuries (Rife, 2016).

We will ask if, and under which circumstances, the arrival or potential recycling of waste leads people to renew or create inter-island alliances, in Oceania in particular, or inter-nation relationships, in Amazonia or in the Western Olympic Peninsula (Washington state, US) where the Quinault and Quileute tribes cooperate to collect abandoned crab traps.


Decolonisation and sovereignty as artistic and environmental actions   

This conference looks at Indigenous concepts used by artists to express their vision of what ‘sustainable development’ or at least a respectful relationship with the environment that recognizes their sovereignty would be. Environment might be described here in relation to the understanding that land is a ‘living entity’ (Watson in Castro-Koshy, 2018). We hope to receive papers interrogating how Indigenous concepts (in Indigenous languages) inspire and nurture artistic practices of engagement with a disrupted or threatened environment. We are particularly interested in contributions that enter into dialogue with or expand works conducted by Indigenous academics, researchers, and artists on notions of intellectual (Warrior, 1992), cultural (Singer, 2001, p. 2), embodied (Moreton-Robinson, 2007, p. 2), visual (Raheja, 2011), dancing (Dangeli, 2015), storytelling (Moreton, 2017), and perceptual (Robinson, 2017) sovereignty, and of sovereignty as action (Rickard, 2017, p. 81) and as a ‘way of life’ (Warrior, 1992). ‘Environmental justice’, a concept defined in the 1970s-1980s in the USA (Mitchell, 2011), may also be explored as it is often put forward in Indigenous demands of equality before the law and in their claims for more sovereignty in Indian land management.

Even though understandings of what constitutes Indigenous sovereignty vary according to the local contexts from which it is defined, we would like to include papers that analyse what Indigenous concepts, and their transnational circulation, bring to the philosophical field. Goenpul Jagara and Bundjulung poet, philosopher, and filmmaker, Romaine Moreton, for example, was inspired by the Hawaian concept ‘ea’, which means ‘sovereignty, breath, independence, life, air spirit, to rise up’ (Pacheco, 2005, p. 3). The concept allowed her to underline ‘the possibility that Indigenous sovereignty is located in [Indigenous people’s] capacity to recontrol [their] own breaths’ (Moreton, 2006, p. 309).

This conference also looks at how artists mobilise and reinvest Indigenous concepts to contribute to the safeguarding and protection of their territories (eg. the projects established by the Kichwa people of Sarayaku) or to support the blocking of mining or construction projects on or near their lands. The ‘water protectors’ have been celebrated in songs such as ‘Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL’, by Hip Hop Caucus and Taboo, or ‘Black Snakes’ by Prolific The Rapper in association with A Tribe Called Red. These productions have relayed images of the violent repression by the police of pacific demonstrations against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Lakota-Dakota Indian reservation of Standing Rock in South and North Dakota (USA).

We also welcome contributions on the responses given by Indigenous artists to situations in which the concerns and actions of the greens or environmentalists go against the expression and claims of Indigenous sovereignty and further dispossess Indigenous people (Bayet-Charlton, 2003). Traditional whale hunting by the Makahs of Washington state has been taking place every year since it started again in 1999, but it was targeted several times by groups opposed to such fishing practices. Insofar as the environment is most often understood by Indigenous people in a holistic way, that is, including ‘social-ecological relationships’ (Muir, Rose, Sullivan, 2010, p. 259), we will also ask if the notion of environmental sovereignty could be useful to develop.


Arts and knowledges of the ocean, sea, and coastline

This conference aims to substantially focus on how Indigenous people relate to the sea, the ocean, and the coastline. Speakers are invited to examine how artistic practices that deal with pollution mobilise Indigenous concepts relating to the sea or ocean. Artists’ responses to either toxic mud that leaks into the oceans or to the fish stocks that are infected with nuclear residues could be analysed to highlight the way Indigenous people perceive the articulation between the land and the sea; coastal environments are, for example, for Australian Indigenous people ‘an integrated cultural landscape/seascape’ (Sea Country: an Indigenous Perspective, 2002, p. 3). In the state of Maine (USA), the Abbe museum displays an exhibition entitled ‘wolankeyutomon’ which means ‘take care of everything’ in Mi'kmaq and defines the holistic vision of maritime Indigenous peoples, connecting water, human beings, and all creatures on land and in the ocean. Looking at the articulation between the arts, the environment, recycling, and sovereignty will also lead us to question the very notion of borders between land and sea that is commonly used in non-Indigenous contexts.


This conference invites contributions addressing all forms of artistic practices, including visual arts, transmedia arts, cinema, fiction, poetry, dance, singing, theatre, performance, etc. It welcomes scholars working in the disciplines of anthropology, history, political science, literature, visual arts and films, linguistic, cultural studies, environmental studies, dance studies, performances, cinema, reception, discard and waste studies, etc., and using interdisciplinary approaches. Studies on all cultural areas, past or present, are welcome. Papers can focus on Oceania or the Americas, or offer intercontinental analysis. Collective contributions are most welcome.



Please send your (250-300 word) abstracts in English or French, along with a short biography, to Estelle Castro-Koshy (, Géraldine Le Roux (, and Jean-Marc Serme (jean-marc.serme@univ-brest.frby 30 April 2021.


Notification of acceptance will be sent by 31 May 2021.