The Making of 'Save our Souls'

In January 2018  Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic worked with  Orangutan Information  Centre and Sumatran Orangutan Society  carved a giant SOS distress call into the landscape of an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, calling attention to the ongoing destruction of Indonesia’s forests and the demise of endangered species.

The canvas for this  intervention was an oil palm plantation, land almost totally devoid of wildlife, directly next to the Leuser Ecosystem - the only place in the world where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. In order to restore the land for wildlife, the palm plantation had to be removed which created an opportunity for this creative colaboration. 

Seen from the air, the SOS is a call for help from a patch of land that was once lush green rainforest. We intend to answer that call, by planting thousands of rainforest tree seedlings to replace the oil palm monoculture, re-creating a thriving ecosystem, buzzing with life. The fallen palms will be used as compost to prepare the land for restoration. Our partners, the OIC, with the backing of the local community, will plant tens of thousands of rainforest tree seedlings to return the land to wildlife. We expect to see orangutans and many other species roaming in the new young forest within a couple of years
— Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society

At the end of 2017, fresh and handmade cosmetics company Lush partnered with conservation charity Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) with the launch of the #SOSsumatra campaign and a limited edition Orangutan Soap across Europe. There are only 14,600 orangutans remaining in the wild in Sumatra. In tribute to them, Lush made 14,600 soaps, which flew off the shelves in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Estonia, Switzerland and the UK, selling out in many countries in a matter of days and raising £126,014. The proceeds enabled the UK charity’s Indonesian partners, the Orangutan Information Centre, to buy 50 hectares of oil palm plantation land, to reclaim and restore native forest to an area on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem in Bukit Mas, Sumatra.

This part of the forest was under attack, with more and more orangutan habitat being lost every week as illegal agriculture encroached into the protected area. By supporting us to buy this land on the buffer zone of the national park, Lush and their customers are enabling us to hold back, and reverse, the tide of forest loss
— Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society
I have had the ambition of creating a Land Art piece since the beginning of the Splash and Burn campaign. I wanted to communicate the magnitude of the problem to a wider audience as well as provide creative outlook, hope, and inspiration to local communities and conservationists. From the ground, you would not suspect anything more than just another palm oil plantation, the aerial view however reveals an SOS distress signal. ‘Save Our Souls’ is a message communicated to those at a distance, a reminder of the connectedness we share with nature. As more of the forests are lost, we lose a little bit of ourselves in the process
— Ernest Zacharevic, Project Curator and Participating Artist

Future Plans for the land

  • Clear total of 100 hectares of plantation.
  • Plant trees native to the local forest.
  • Study and protect animals returning to the land.
  • Build permaculture farm and public school to employ and educate local communities.