Search site

IRC 2023 exhibit combines science and art to explore a food-secure future

Manila, Philippines (07 November 2023)All Tomorrows’ Harvest, a contemporary art exhibition at the 6th International Rice Congress, explored the possibilities for achieving a food-secure future amid the challenges of climate change.

The exhibit showcased a juxtaposition of rice science and the arts to elicit views and raise important questions about our shared futures in the context of food and agriculture.

Conceptualized by the IRRI Communications and Advocacy Team and curated by Dindin Araneta, the exhibit is a result of the coming together of creatives Martika Escobar, Erwin Romulo, Derek Tumala, and Jake Verzosa who rendered speculative and exploratory approaches to tell an interconnected story. In their respective artistic forms and styles, a filmmaker, a conceptual artist, a visual artist, and a photographer have responded to the vast body of work produced by scientists.

With her documentary film, Martika Escobar created glimpses into a future where current ideals are a reality. Erwin Romulo used a timeline as a speculative vehicle to chronicle IRRI’s work and juxtapose it with corresponding world events. Derek Tumala was moved by seeing the works of Mitsuaki Tanabe at IRRI, ranging from the small studies to the massive sculpture, and he created a rice grain inspired by the late Japanese artist and conservationist. Jake Verzosa used IRRI archival photos and presented to a speculative archive with his own AI-generated images that surprises us and moves us. The works of the four artists interconnect and reference each other's speculative realities. (IRC2023)

This is the first time the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has organized such an event, according to IRRI Research Director Bas Bouman. “We are delighted to have partnered with four Filipino artists to respond to the work of scientists and to reimagine science into artistic forms. This shows that artists can help us, scientists, face the realities of the future through their art,” Dr. Bouman said. “The science discussions and exchanges at the IRC 2023 have been as interesting as they are complex and so we ask ourselves, how can they be made accessible to the non-science community? And more importantly, how can the non-science community better understand the issues surrounding urgent twin concerns of climate change and food security?”


On the final day of IRC 2023, Dr. Bouman and the featured artists engaged with IRC delegates and guests in an insightful event,  Science and Art in Conversation, where they shared their individual experiences in the process of completing their respective works and exchanged views on issues surrounding rice and the agriculture sector, as well as untapped opportunities.

Filmmaker-cinematographer Martika Escobar created a 15-minute hybrid documentary allowing us a glimpse into a future where current ideals are a reality. “I came into this project wanting to learn more about science and farming. This film is like a conversation between farmers and scientists from IRRI who are here. It was a very enriching process for me as a person working in the arts. It’s me trying to ask the farmers how they imagine the year 2060. They did have difficulty imagining anything, which led to bigger conversations,” Escobar said.

Conceptual artist Erwin Romulo proposed a timeline as a speculative vehicle to chronicle the institute’s work set side by side with corresponding world events. “My work on the timeline is all ideas of how a scientist imagines the future,” Romulo said. “But we did base this on research. If one goes through the timeline they should accept this throughout and if you disagree, then prove me wrong,” shared Romulo adding that the artist’s impression of what the future can be is more exciting than unsettling.

“Our ideas are based on the research on how to relate arts and science, to integrate the two seemingly disparate fields,” said visual artist Derek Tumala. “I was intrigued and inspired by the drawings and studies of the rice grain at IRRI headquarters by Mitsuaki Tanabe.” The late Japanese artist and environmental activist’s vision and contributions to agriculture consist of massive sculptures found not just at IRRI but at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, the Global Seed Bank at Svalbard in Norway, among other international agencies devoted to helping ensure global food security. Tumala’s work, a sculpted grain of rice, is a homage to Tanabe’s Momi, the Japanese term for wild rice.

The inspiration: Renowned Japanese artist Mitsuaki Tanabe visits IRRI to restore one of his art creations, the Momi. The Momi, a massive wooden sculpture illustrating a sprouting wild rice, is housed at IRRI's Riceworld Museum which is slated for renovation after more than 25 years. Tanabe approached IRRI with his Momi idea in the early 1990s and constructed it over several months in 1994. (IRRI Archives)

The modern interpretation: Visual artist Derek Tumala was moved upon seeing the works of Mitsuaki Tanabe at IRRI, ranging from the small studies to the massive sculpture. Tumala’s rice grain (pictured above), among the featured artworks in the All Tomorrows’ Harvest exhibit at the IRC, was inspired by the late Japanese artist and conservationist. (IRC2023)

Harvesting creative insight from the IRRI archives, photographer Jake Verzosa presented a speculative archive with IRRI photos and AI-generated images that explore the frontiers of the human condition.

All Tomorrow’s Harvest highlighted the need for sustained efforts, not only from scientists, but economists, policymakers, women’s advocates, humanitarians, philosophers, and contemporary artists so that we can have a future that is good for all. It also explored the potential of farming as a sustainable livelihood for younger generations and the empowerment of women farmers and scientists to close the gender gap.

Read the Exhibition Notes here.