top of page


Originally published in The Nature of Cities

“You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering” —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)

Resilience is a word often understood in terms of strength—something is resilient because it is strong. In the Anthropocene, however, we would do well to understand resilience in terms of fragility as well. One of the more troubling arguments I have heard in relation to resilience is this: that nature will find a way to survive no matter what we subject Earth (or ourselves) to. For me the issue at hand is not just whether nature will survive the 6th extinction that we are currently living through, but rather whether we can afford to be so complacent about the increasingly diminished form it is taking. Be certain, there will be no clear ‘winners’ on our current ecological trajectory.

Here I present a series of paintings that bear witness to the novel ecologies of the Anthropocene. These paintings are dedicated to landscapes that embody the duality of vulnerability and strength inherent in resilience for both humans and the natural world. Three of these paintings,Edith Stephens I, II and III, address a damaged, watery realm on the outskirts of Cape Town, a place I find particularly pertinent to the topic of resilience.

In the 1940s, Edith Stephens, a botanist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, found that the diverse flora and (small) fauna of the wetlands outside the city were under threat from ongoing habit loss and degradation due to urban and agricultural expansion. Her conservation efforts to preserve something of the wetlands eventually resulted in a nature reserve being established.

Now triangled between two busy roads and a densely populated informal settlement, the Edith Stephens Wetland Park is in an area where both humans and nature are subjected to severe stresses, trauma, and fragmentation. The park is a windswept place, heavy and damp with ecological and social unease: it is not only a vestige of threatened plants found nowhere else in the world, but also a contested open area adjacent to densely packed shacks, in an age when the wisdom of conservation is questioned.

Edith Stephens’ nature reserve has been found to be one of the few homes to an exceedingly rare plant, Isoetes capensis, a small, fern-like ‘living fossil,’ which has remained almost unchanged for 200 million years. That it has survived since the Carboniferous era tells us that it must be incredibly resilient, but does this mean anything in the Anthropocene, where it is now finally facing extinction? Is resilience itself endangered? We have yet to see whether this may be the case, but our high expectations of resilience from nature (and, indeed, people, too) may be dangerous.


bottom of page