Forces of Nature presents U.S. scientists, politicians, activists, writers, and artists who have shaped attitudes toward the environment from the mid-nineteenth century to today. These individuals represent diverse aspects of environmental thought. Some, who questioned the effectiveness of wilderness preservation, have encouraged natural resource conservation through sustainable use. Others brought ecological perspectives, emphasizing the interrelatedness of organisms and their environments and warning about the effects of environmental damage on biodiversity and human health. Still others have criticized environmentalism for deprioritizing human needs or for being overly alarmist. Meanwhile, there are those who have urged immediate action on environmental justice and climate change. At the heart of these debates are big questions: What is our relationship to the rest of the natural world, and what are our responsibilities toward it? How do scientific, political, social, economic, aesthetic, and moral considerations factor into our decisions?
While the people in Forces of Nature offer a range of viewpoints, they do not paint a full picture. Many contributions—including those of Indigenous communities and grassroots activists—are underrepresented. The exhibition reveals the possibilities and challenges of using traditional portraiture and the museum’s existing collection to tell such a history.
This exhibition has been made possible through the support of The Honorable Doris Matsui and Roger Sant.