The 10th International Forest Art Trail: Nature – Culture – Identity

It is a warm July day. Together with other volunteers and art lovers, Samira Jamali has been working with the drill for hours. Under the supervision of Barbara Beisinghoff, the subtropical flora and fauna of the Messel Pit, which existed in this region 48 million years ago, is being re-created on five perforated metal plates. This working technique is new to Samira, it inspires her, fills her with new ideas. The anticipation to meet other artists, acquire new techniques, make interesting encounters and get inspiration for her own work is high – there are still almost four months of her internship at the International Forest Art Center ahead of her and the world seems to be okay again.

Samira Jamali comes from Buschehr, Iran. As a child, she spent hours in her uncle’s art workshop, then graduated from an art school having studied graphics and photography. After her bachelor degree she worked as an art teacher and photographer. In 2018, fleeing persecution due to her Christian beliefs, she and her husband gave up a life filled with family, friends, exhibitions and art in Iran, and moved to Germany via Greece and Serbia.

When asked about her first days in Germany, Samira becomes thoughtful, sad: “The first month in Germany, I just sat there and mourned my old life. I gave up everything in Iran. I am a person who loves to be with people, who is involved a lot, helps a lot, works a lot, talks a lot…“.

After her arrival in Darmstadt, Samira attended a German course, suspended under COVID-19 restrictions in early 2020. Like many refugees, Samira was affected by the cancellation of the German course and increasing isolation. The remoteness from the already very restricted world and the increasing loneliness motivated Samira to look for a job or an internship that could give her more room to breathe again. By chance, she learnt that the Association for International Forest Art was looking for an intern to support the 10th International Forest Art Trail 2020.

During her internship interview, Samira stood silently next to her cousin. At that time her German was already quite good, but still she was afraid to speak. However, when we talked to her again at the end of November 2020 for this article, Samira was speaking in German – without any help – about her internship and experiences during the last months: “Everyone was incredibly patient with me, especially Ute took a lot of time to explain the tasks and to connect me with all the artists,” Samira remembers. From the very beginning, Ute Ritschel, curator of the Association for International Forest Art, introduced Samira as an equal team member; supporting, empowering, and listening to her. Samira’s became more trustful of her German skills taking on tasks in the organization and implementation of the International Forest Art Trail. She cooked, took photos, and operated the drill, sawed…. In the course of her internship, Samira contacted all the artists, got to know new working methods, techniques and materials, worked on installations, exchanged ideas, got inspired and started looking into the future with hope again. Beside Barbara Beisinghoff, Sehriban Köksal Kurt and Roger Rigorth had the main influence on Samira’s summer months at the Waldkunstzentrum. The love for nature connected her with Sehriban Köksal Kurt, an artist that captures the natural world in a very impressive way. With Roger Rigorth, Samira worked with wood, learned to understand, feel and work with this material. The International Forest Art Trail not only gave her the opportunity to rediscover and live her artistic potential but also the feeling that, after many months of uncertainty and of being on the road, she has finally arrived to place where she can thrive as an artist and where she can feel at home.

Samira is still in contact with the Association for International Forest Art and with two artists from the Darmstadt area. Now in her free time, she supports them in their workshops. The appreciation for her skills and the possibility to continue being artistically active, to learn, to exchange experiences, fills her with joy, sense and self-confidence, giving her new perspectives. After her German course, Samira is now planning to apply for a vocational training in an art field that is new to her and which she got to know during her internship. When asked whether she will apply for the 11th International Forest Art Trail 2022 with her own art, she laughs but does hesitate: “Yes“.

Samira Jamali’s internship was made possible by a cooperation between the Association for International Forest Art and the UNESCO Geo-Naturepark Bergstraße-Odenwald as a part of RURITAGE. During the highly challenging and difficult year of 2020, which was dominated by COVID-19, the Geo-Naturpark team succeeded in carrying out various actions in close collaboration with its cooperation partners, despite numerous restrictions. RURITAGE participated as an official partner of the Association for International Forest Art in the realization of several Children’s Art Construction Trailer workshops and the 10th International Forest Art Trail 2020. Together with the UNESCO World Heritage Site Messel Pite, five virtual children’s book readings were recorded in November and December 2020 and published on the YouTube Channel of the Geo-Naturpark. In the course of the year, more video films on the topics of Children’s Art Construction Trailor, online guided tours through the Messel Pit and instructional videos for mountain bikers were produced.

Messel Pit and RURITAGE are currently working on an ABC card game for migrants and children. For the coming months, virtual ranger tours are on the to-do list of the RURITAGE team. In addition a development of a GIS app for mapping the vulnerability of the local natural and cultural heritage to climate change and a two-day fruit tree trimming course, are also planned.

The Forest Art Trail of 2020 took place under the motto “Art/Nature/Identity”. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the Association for International Forest Art made it possible for 15 artists from 8 countries – Bulgaria, Cote Ivoire, Japan, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey and Germany – to participate in the art exhibition. 11 installations were created at the Böllenfalltor in Darmstadt. Various actions and concerts as well as an extensive children’s program have been carried out with the action area of the International Forest Art Trail extended this year: at the visitor centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Messel Pit, three additional installations were set up by Barbara Beisinghoff, Waltraud Munz-Heiliger and Roger Rigorth under the slogan “art/forest/fossil”. The International Forest Art Trail as well as the newly established cooperation with the Messel Pit were supported by the UNESCO Geo-Naturepark Bergstraße-Odenwald in the frame of RURITAGE. Altogether the International Forest Art Trail counted with approximately 30,000 visitors and nearly 7000 participants at 150 guided tours, workshops and meetings. A success story in times of crisis.