An interview with The Art of Resilience’s Charlie V. Rose
Lewa Next Gen’s The Art of Resilience will premiere in New York City from September 1–11, 2021 at the High Line Nine in partnership with Montague Contemporary. The exhibition captures the stories and faces of individuals living and working around Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.
Filmmaker, exhibition co-creator, and Next Gen committee member Charlie V. Rose has worked with brands including Johnnie Walker and Mercedes Benz, as well as film stars like Liam Neeson. Charlie has a passion for conservation and previously cycled 8000km up Africa through 9 countries while filming rangers and locals caught in the cross-fire of the poaching crisis, raising £50,000 for ranger welfare in the process.
In October 2020, Charlie and oil portraitist Pie Herring approached Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Next Gen chair Laura Day Webb. Their idea was simple: To visit the communities surrounding Lewa to document and give a platform to those directly affected by the drop in tourism due to COVID-19. The work would highlight the importance of Lewa’s community-driven conservation model, with their sale benefitting Lewa’s much-needed efforts.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What techniques and subject matters do you work with? How did you come to enter the contemporary art world?
I have to admit that I feel a bit of a fraud in the company of this incredible array of contemporary artists.
I am a jack of all trades filmmaker, having worked as a director, cinematographer and writer, so the opportunity to traverse into the contemporary art world has been a new and incredibly rewarding experience.
My background is broadly in filmmaking, which is something I began tinkering with in my late teens and have been obsessed with ever since. I’ve predominately made adverts and content, in an as creative a way as possible, and dived into more rewarding projects like this whenever I have had the good fortune of stumbling across them! These have ranged from making a film about cycling through Africa and documenting the stories of wildlife rangers to a narrative comedy about a wild winkle-picking adventure in the 1990s.
Do you have a particular process you go through when beginning a new piece? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I find filmmaking is an opportunity to discover different worlds, ways of life and experiences. My inspiration tends to come from my own curiosity and desire to understand another person’s experience of life, especially if I can see something of myself reflected in their story. For example, the inspiration for the short film I have just finished called ‘The Iain Banks Appreciation Society’ came from a chance encounter in a pub. A bloke came and asked to sit with me, and told me a story of his life that just completely resonated with the way I felt at the time. We stayed in touch, and he let me write it into a film.
In terms of this project, I find the human story of conservation a fascinating one. African wildlife holds a romantic and sentimental place in the global consciousness, but it is really the people in and around the parks, whose lives are intrinsically linked to the animals, who understand the complexities of coexistence and bear responsibility for the preservation of these species. I find speaking to and learning from these people fascinating, and it is a great privilege to share some of their stories.
What role do you feel the artist plays in society?
This is when I really wish I’d been to art school. I guess it depends on the medium, but as a filmmaker I think you have the opportunity to share your own view of the world, and to take someone on a journey that they wouldn’t necessarily experience in their own lives. You provide a portal into other people’s experiences, into their worlds, and hopefully when the viewer comes back into their own they have taken something away with them.
What inspired you to get involved with Next Gen’s art exhibition for Lewa Wildlife Conservancy? Why is this project meaningful to you?
I spent most of the lockdown editing footage of the 5 month bicycle journey I took through Africa, filming with Rangers and community members from a number of parks, including Lewa. We filmed this a few years ago, and throughout lockdown I kept thinking about how much pressure those people’s lives would be under from the dramatic reduction in tourism during 2020, not to mention coronavirus itself.
Pie Herring and I put our heads together, and decided we would try and combine her incredible artistic talents with my ability to hold a camera, and join forces with Lewa to explore the stories of resilience found among the conservation communities around the park. The aim would be to shine a light on the importance of conservation tourism to the communities involved, the importance of those communities to conservation, and to raise money to support Lewa’s incredible community outreach programmes.
We have been blessed with the wonderful opportunity of exhibiting alongside some brilliant Kenyan artists, and I hope that the stories we tell together will engage more people in the incredible work happening in and around Lewa.
Tell us about your pieces that will be exhibited by Next Gen. What inspired them? What do you hope viewers will take away from them?
The film that I’m proudly showing at the exhibition is what I have pretentiously dubbed a ‘moving portrait’, as it features each of the characters in Pie’s paintings and is narrated by their voices.
It attempts to weave together a number of community members’ experiences of the covid era, and to capture the sense of optimism and resilience in the face of sometimes extreme adversity.
It focuses on members of the community whose lives are somehow intertwined with tourism and conservation, from a beadworker whose sales have plummeted, to a lodge manager who has had to deal with a complete shutdown.
I hope the film and Pie’s portraits compliment each other, provide a hero moment for the characters, and that they work together to engage a new audience to the human side of conservation.
How has COVID impacted your work and have you seen your work shift in the past year?
I couldn’t be in a more different place to where I was a year ago. I was working as a director at an advertising agency, with a consistent paycheck and a focus on commercials. I decided to go freelance at just about the worst time this century, but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to put this project together — which has taken me to Kenya and soon to New York — that opened my eyes to some incredible stories and introduced me to the art world. I couldn’t have imagined where I would be now this time last year, but that’s the exciting thing about life!
Through a range of mediums, art can inform and inspire viewers to explore new ideas. How does art — particularly African art — connect viewers with conservation?
Art can be so powerful as a means of putting the viewer in someone else’s metaphorical shoes. Seeing African stories through an African lens can cut through borders and barriers, allowing the viewer to engage with the personal expression of someone geographically far removed from their own reality. I feel hypocritical saying this as an Englishman in an African art exhibition, but hopefully the fact that my film is narrated completely by unscripted Kenyan voices, and told from their perspective, means that it will have something of a similar impact. Hopefully seeing all the artwork as a whole will connect viewers with conservation on a level that would be hard to achieve any other way.