Desert is a Forest by Sunoj D and Namrata Neog is the third Artist’s Garden commission at Jameel Arts Centre. Alongside the Jameel’s seven gardens designed by Anouk Vogel is a plot reserved for artists to cultivate and experiment, via an annual commission.
Sunoj D and Namrata Neog’s intervention begins with the prompt of how to “think like a forest”.
The garden, as envisioned at the Jameel Arts Centre, in a way translates this idea, exploring the biodiversity within the UAE landscape, and the interconnectedness of the goat, the human, the plant and the natural mineral deposits that form in the desert.
The garden includes a selection of plants, indigenous to the UAE that are/were traditionally consumed both by humans and goats or used for medicinal purposes. Most of the plants selected for the garden grow naturally in the wilderness, often mistaken as weeds, and in areas where goats graze. Over the years, some plant species have increased in numbers due to the domestication of the goat, resulting in farmers and goat herders growing a larger quantity of plants to feed the goats, and other plants have become scarcer as animal grazing increased and environmental conditions shifted. The Artist’s Garden is also inhabited by mineral deposits or ‘mineral licks’, which often form on the surface of stones or pools of water, becoming spaces that attract animals, plants and humans for their essential mineral nutrients.
A garden of complex entanglements, Desert is a Forest examines the politics of food, domestication, relationships between humans and non-humans, and the way we see and interpret the environment, while also telling the unique history of the UAE’s plant ecology and nutritional habits.