Intergenerational Harmony (Braiding Sweetgrass)
Artwork for The Omidyar Group, December 2023
Inspired by the practice of braiding sweetgrass and the book of the same name by botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer, Intergenerational Harmony is an artwork showcasing the power and necessity of practices that honor the interconnection of all life, amplify regenerative lifeways, and are frameworks for intergenerational storytelling and wisdom keeping.
“When we braid sweetgrass, we are braiding the hair of Mother Earth, showing her our loving attention, our care for her beauty and well-being, in gratitude for all she has given us. (page 5)
The tree has been a good mother. Most years she nurtures a full crop of apples, gathering the energy of the world into herself and passing it on. She sends her young out into the world well provisioned for the journey, packaged in sweetness to share with the world. (page 95)”
Hahai no ka ua i ka ululā‘au – Rain always follows the forest.
Although braiding sweetgrass is a practice of First Nations Peoples, it symbolizes similar practices from many Indigenous and nature-based cultures whose foundational relationship with Mother Earth is rooted in reciprocity and community.
I have often heard people suggest that we look to the practices of indigenous peoples to find answers. Still, this activity only delivers an intellectual understanding of a sequence of actions versus imparting wisdom and the courage to act in the face of the status quo. Unless we ask questions that demand nuanced understanding and spaciousness for interconnection and complexity, we bypass the intellectual and spiritual work required for wisdom to be birthed from within us.
After settling into the creative process and allowing the work to inform me as a vessel, the main question that emerged and guided me was, “Does beauty have the power to imbue love and truth into hearts that are hardened by fear and scarcity?”
To underscore the importance of intergenerational knowledge and values-aligned action, there is a youth and a parent or elder weaving the sweetgrass. The backdrop of their relational work is a gorge, a geographical feature that requires millennia to be created––thousands of years of harmonious interaction between earth, water, and wind shifts the landscape in ways that allow for life to thrive and evolve harmoniously, plus, it gifts humanity a depth of natural beauty that expresses the fullest potential of the interrelationship of all life. Our contemporary life practices must scale to align with the timescales of natural cycles.
The trees symbolize the importance of synthesizers, species, people, or groups that aim to pull in multiple elements from various sectors to create other essential elements. Trees are sources and keepers of knowledge. The leaves tell the viewer that the seasons are changing, underscoring the need to understand and complement natural cycles’ organic and ever-shifting manifestation when designing human systems to create and maintain social, cultural, political, and economic abundance and durability.
The foundation of the image is water. Water is life. Water is what created the gorge and ensured the sustainability of the broader ecosystem that is home to the weavers and their community.
The colors are not symbolic of specific ideas or cultural values per se. The use of color in this work aims to create a visual symphony, allowing the viewer to lead with emotion and intuitive action, to fall into a dream state where global peace, abundance, equity, and interconnection are manifest.
Nai‘a Lewis is the founder of Salted Logic, an indigenous, women-owned media collective working out of Honolulu, New York, and Nashville.