Johannesburg, July 15, 2002 – While government officials gather for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (26th August – 4th September 2002), South-African artists and local communities in deprived areas around Johannesburg will be getting involved, helping each other to make a living through work on Friends of the Earth International’s art installation Hear our voice.

The installation, consisting of 10,000 biodegradable paper statues produced from waste materials such as paper, is being co-ordinated by Friends of the Earth International as part of their presence at the Earth Summit. The statues represent the diverse voices of people all over the world whose lives are struggling to defend their environment and communities. The figures will be a constant reminder to government officials at the Summit that people’s real needs should be central to the negotiations.

At the centre of the installation, there will be a giant statue, made out of industrial waste, which represents the power of big corporations. Big corporations exercise a growing influence on our lives, but they are not always willing to listen to the individuals whose lives they affect. The contrast between the biodegradable statues and the corporate giant is the theme of the installation.
The installation will also feature a soundscape, compiled by Friends of the Earth International from the messages and sounds sent by individuals around the world, as a powerful message to world leaders that action must be taken to protect communities and the environment from exploitation by corporations.

On Monday 2nd September, the day ministers arrive at the Earth Summit, the installation will be there to welcome them, symbolizing the calls of many for a sustainable future.

Don’t let big corporations rule the world!
As a prelude to that day, a bottom-up process of empowerment, skill-transfer and awareness raising is already taking place among the deprived communities in Gauteng province. The production of Hear our voice shows that how ever marginalised, people can help themselves, learning new and useful skills while respecting ecological and social conditions.

One of the 11 groups involved in Hear our voice is the Soweto Mountain of Hope (SoMoHo). This community-group educates young people from one of the poorest townships in Johannesburg to recycle waste materials into art. The FoEI-project hooks on and strengthens these practices, which have proved an effective way of preventing crime and encouraging employment.

The skills the participants acquire enable them to support themselves in the future. Since all statues are hand-made, they are all different, reflecting the contrast between the expressive and empowering quality of the art installation and the uniformity of the corporate world of unlimited trade.

In today’s world, people from deprived communities rarely have chance to have their say. Economic gain presides over ecological or community gain. But the participants of Hear our Voice instead envision a world where common resources are developed for the profit of the majority, rather than for the profit of a minority. Hear our voice is a call for corporate accountability. Don’t let big corporations rule the world!

Friends of the Earth International in Johannesburg:
Lotte Asveld – Press officer – Hear our Voice
Tel: +27-(0) 724796658 Fax: +27-(0) 114030062
Donald Pols
Earth Summit Co-ordinator in South-Africa