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How are Asia and Antarctica connected? This exhibition at Botanic Gardens tells the story

A film and photography exhibition by Eco-Business entitled Changing Course - at the Singapore Botanic Gardens till July 12 - explores the connection.

In late February, Eco-Business Managing Editor Jessica Cheam and Scottish documentary-maker Fraser Morton boarded a plane for a 45-hour journey that would take them to Ushuaia, Argentinathe world’s southernmost city. They were embarking on a two-week expedition to the Antarctica called Climate Force: Antarctica 2018, led by Sir Robert Swan, the British environmentalist and explorer who was the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles.

On Thin Ice by Jessica Cheam. I took it while perched on a speedboat during the expedition. The beauty of these icebergs, its deep blue colour, the detail in its ice formation and texture were mesmerising for me. But beyond that I feel like it encapsulates the tension men have with nature and how we are on thin ice with climate change. We are all interrelated.’

Together with 90 other travelers from all over the world, they would document how ecosystems are changing as a result of rising temperatures, and raise awareness about the global climate crisis, driving home the message that mankind needs to adopt more sustainable ways of living.

On board the ship crossing the Antarctic Circle, Jessica and Fraser survived rough seas and freezing weather conditions, and once they arrived on the continent, they were confronted with the sheer isolation of the ice-covered landmass that’s about a third of the size of Asia. The film and photography exhibition Changing Course is the product of Jessica and Fraser’s sojourn; a curation of 70 photos out of thousands taken, plus a short documentary called From Asia to Antarctica.

If you’re wondering how Asia and the Antarctica are connected despite being thousands of miles apart, then consider the symbiosis which is perfectly summed up by Isabelle Louis, the Deputy Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Programme: ‘The entire planet’s climate system works like a giant conveyor belt, and what happens in the extremes is bound to affect the tropics.’

‘Sir David Attenborough once observed that the more you understand about the natural world, the more likely you are to understand why it is so important to humanity and to do something about looking after it. That is the message I hoped to convey while curating the Changing Course film and photography exhibition. While Antarctica is important to our survival, we do not carry that same importance. It does not care what we do. All its ice can melt, and Antarctica will still be there. The question is: Will we?’

It is unsurprising that what started out as a quest to document a climate story would evolve into a personal journey of self-discovery for Jessica, who has spent over a decade covering sustainable development issues, first as a newspaper journalist and then at Eco-Business, the website she founded. On Antarctica without a phone signal or Internet access, she found herself learning to disconnect and enjoying the experience of being in the icy wilderness.

‘I rediscovered the joy of sitting still for long periods with just my thoughts, writing, or landscape- or people-watching. Antarctica’s majestic terrain and its silence – a sharp contrast to Singapore’s city life – provided a comforting space, a vacuum in time, in which I pondered questions such as what it means to be human, what is our purpose in life, and how we exist in relation to each other and to Nature.’

Here is a selection of some of Jessica’s favourite photos from the Changing Course exhibition, which is on at the green Pavilion at Singapore Botanic Gardens through Jul 12. Free entry.

  • ‘I also like this picture of the lone penguin in contemplation set against the majestic landscapes of Antarctica. There is something about this wild, mysterious continent that makes you reflect on life and on man’s hubris and impermanence.’
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