Extremism. Just by reading such a word various thoughts may come to mind. One might think of an ideology, maybe, linked to a violent form of conflict, but do you know how extremism expresses itself? Can we become extremists? What can be considered extremism?

Landscape with the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (circa 1520) by Joachim PatinirMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Economical extremism, with complete disregard for the environment, might actually be the most dangerous to humankind. It might not be a direct attack on people, but its threat to humankind is the most concerning one, since there can be no humanity without nature and this planet.  It might seem not to be in line with the broad definition of extremism, but the consciousness of environmental protection cannot be said to have already been fully assimilated into what’s socially acceptable. The power over and disregard towards the environment by big profit corporations rarely is contested. If the motivation is business, the environmental impact is of little consequence. 

The Extermination (1997) by Jane Ash PoitrasRoyal Ontario Museum

The amount of species human’s have driven to extinction, or to the brink of it, is astonishing, the futile motivations of some are unnerving.

Such as in slavery, animals are seen as resources of nature to be harnessed by humans, to please humans, with little rights.

As in war, the collateral damage to animals our modern practices might have, is of little consequence.

Bill Ray, 1970, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Poaching for fur annihilated whole populations across the globe, the industry still thrives even when the abuses are public knowledge.

Carved elephant tusk, Late 1800s, From the collection of: British Museum
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The ivory trade continues to reduce elephant’s population in Asia and Africa.

An Elephant, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1637, From the collection of: British Museum
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More than 30,000 elephants are killed every year, putting them in danger of extinction.

Earth, Jan Brueghel l'Ancien, dit de velours, 1610, From the collection of: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
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To not even mention every other species in danger of extinction or already extinct indirectly by humans, by polluting and destroying their habitats.

Truth Illuminating Human Blindness (about 1650) by Volterrano (Baldassare Franceschini)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Many campaigns have been launched to raise awareness to these issues, but the persons behind them tend to be labeled as environmental radicalists or extremists. The truth is they are simply people who sees the true danger in socially accepting this on-ending abuse of nature’s resources and acts to help. It’s a reactionary movement to the excesses carried on by industries, a movement that, in its own existence, shows the own extremism of the established industry policy.

The Factory at Pontoise (1873) by Camille PissarroThe Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The long battles already fought to control the excesses of our industrial world should be congratulated.

East Germany Industrial Development (1967-02) by Ralph CraneLIFE Photo Collection

The global campaigns to cease the use of aerosols, to reduce CO2 emissions, to stop the excessive deforestation.

Time Carrying Truth (1747) by François Le Moyne|Laurent CarsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

However, as time changes, as the battles are forgotten, the importance of the measures taken fades and the same extremist tendency slowly rises again.

All that was done to protect the Amazon Forest during the last decades and, then, last year, the equivalent of a million football fields was laid bare.

This year, most of it is burning.

Death and Life (1910/15) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

It’s easier to destroy than to heal, sometimes it is even impossible. Which underlies another important aspect, as the measures seem to be enforced and beneficial to the cause, the attention on the issue diminishes and the same practices can resurface slowly, yet destructively, none the less.

Wäschklammern by Plastic Erfurt, Brühler Weg 26, Erfurt, 5023DDR Museum

Today, for us as a society, plastic excess is another enormous challenge. One that will demand a change in our habits.

Betty Furness (1967-03-11) by Stan WaymanLIFE Photo Collection

The commodity of plastic can’t be denied, versatility has been its great characteristic. In a couple of decades, since its commercial introduction, plastic could be found in almost every product. From components to wrapping. Plastic became common in everyday life. What happens to it, after it passed our hands, after its function has been fulfilled, never becomes a question to most of us.  If you’re thirsty, you’ll buy the water bottle, being a single use plastic probably won’t even cross your mind. An effort is required, on everyone and every situation. Not only by us, the consumers, but undoubtedly by the industry.

Mid Ocean (1875/1945) by Frederick Judd WaughThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Although the conscious on the topic has been rising, promises have been made but, truth be told, our oceans keep on taking more than 8 million metric tons of plastic every year.

Ocean Life Ocean Life (1854/1864) by James M. Sommerville|Christian SchusseleThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

8 million metric tons, so absurd that it’s impossible to visualize.

Utagawa Hiroshige, 'The Sea at Satta, Suruga Province' (Suruga Satta kaijō), a colour woodblock print (1859/1859)British Museum

With the atual rhythm of production, by 2025 we will be dumping twice that, 16 million metric tons.

The Sea: Night (1915) by Artist: Dwight William TryonSmithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art

Every 30 cm of every coastline in the entire world will have ten bags full of plastic.

Half Rabbit (detail) (2017) by Bordalo IIFaculty of Arts and Humanities of University of Porto

Art has already begun to portray this atrocity.

Half Rabbit (2017) by Bordalo IIFaculty of Arts and Humanities of University of Porto

Most of the world doesn’t yet have the capacity to imagine such volume of pollution. Unfortunately, we might all experience it directly in the near future. Plastic everywhere. Natural habitats completely destroyed. Numerous animal species extinct. A progressively diminishing biodiversity that threatens our own survival. Adding, of course, to every other environmental issue we face. 

The Sense of Sight (1625/1649) by Juan DòThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

The main problem is how we cannot see the wrong in our ways. We cannot see how the way we have always lived, the habits we have carried out for decades without any warnings not to, are now so damaging to the environment. Everyone does it, it isn’t against what is socially expectable. No one labels us extremists for it. Yet.

But can we truly be extremists?

People Pollution (1969-11-18) by Ralph CraneLIFE Photo Collection

Of course. We all can, collectively and individually. For the good and the bad. We can react to extremism in certain aspects, we can be complicit with it in others. Consciously or not.

But are we?
Are you?

Art portraying Extremism Final (2019)Faculty of Arts and Humanities of University of Porto

We should all ponder. Ponder our actions, our habits and their real consequences, disregarding how socially acceptable they are. We should interiorize that a single action from us, a second or a minute of our day, for more insignificant it seems, can change the world for better. What counts is that there’s one more human being acting towards the benefit of nature and earth. In truth, of all mankind.

Mission: Apollo-Saturn 8: Earthrise, the planet Earth seen rising above the surface of the moon, by Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders the first men to orbit the moon (December 21, 1968 - December 27, 1968, printed c. 1991) by William A. AndersThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Maybe we can never stop the rise of extremism,
socially and politically. It will keep on miraculously come out of the dim lights
right into the spotlight. Capable of bending the truth, blinding the masses and
diluting the  social boundaries about
what’s acceptable. Maybe the only choice will always be to
fight it once we finally realize it’s there, when we can begin to imagine what
it feels like. 

We just have to choose to fight it and once more, like Art, not for us, but for the whole of humankind.

The sower (1944) by James GleesonArt Gallery of New South Wales

Credits: Story


CURATORSHIP: Laura Fabíola Esteves Pereira (CITCEM), Lúcia Rosas (FLUP/CITCEM) & Maria Leonor Botelho (FLUP/CITCEM)

TEXTS: Laura Fabíola Esteves Pereira (CITCEM)


SPONSORS: Embaixada dos Estados Unidos da América em Portugal / US Embassy Portugal ACP - American Corners Portugal

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
British Museum
DDR Museum
Fondazione Cariplo
Freer and Sackler Galleries
Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino
Getty Images
Kunsthistoriches Museum Wien
Leopold Museum
LIFE Photo Collection
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mafra National Palace
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Museo Correr
Museo de San Marco, Florence
National Azulejo Museum
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
National Museum of Contemporary Art - Museu do Chiado
National Museum Soares dos Reis
Palace National of Ajuda
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Royal Ontario Museum
The Art Institute of Chicago
The J. Paul Getty Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The National Gallery, London
The Walters Art Museum
Van Gogh Museum
Yad Vashem


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