PROJECT: THE FAR WOODS
ART BY THE FAR WOODS
PROFILE BY KATE WEINER WITH NINA AND SONYA MONTENEGRO
I first discovered The Far Woods thanks to The Woman Who Married A Bear. Milla had shared a snapshot of The Far Woods’ luminous Lunar Calendar that documents the dates of the new, waxing, full, and waning moon phases and I was drawn to the potent print of a moon rising silver across the shoulders of night-blooming flowers. Since my mama gifted me my own Lunar Calendar earlier this year, I’ve found that I return to it again and again to map out gatherings with friends and mark rituals in my life. The calendar is as beautiful to look at as it is a tactile reminder to create the space for ceremony.
My experience with my Lunar Calendar reflects the value of educational art to bring beauty into our everyday and to inspire creative action. And it’s this capacity to spark tangible connections that I so cherish about The Far Woods. Created by sisters Sonya and Nina Montenegro, The Far Woods provides prints, workbooks, zines, patches, and posters in service of seeding regenerative and reciprocal relationships with the earth and with each other.
As Sonya shares:
“The spark [for The Far Woods] came in 2010, when [Nina and I] finally both lived in Portland, OR and started to work together on a bunch of underground street art projects that bloomed from our growing awareness of the dire state of the environment and our culture’s disconnect from each other and the Earth. We wanted to do something, but continued to be unsure of how to contribute—always wondering if making art was “enough.” But we’ve come to see the power of making art, for us, stems from the fact that it is what makes us happiest, makes us feel alive. I think Howard Thurman’s words are incredibly wise: ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’”
This lively spirit is very much manifest in Sonya and Nina’s work. Their passion for vibrant colors and bold patterns are a sensuous reflection of our vital earth. And although their work is more than ‘“enough”—I know so many folks who have been inspired to mend and make thanks to The Far Woods’ radical art—it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Paging through The Far Woods’ body of work, I am always moved by the playfulness that darts in and out of their luminous illustrations.
During these dark days, play can feel elusive. Like so many of you, I sometimes struggle to nurture my inherent lightness and liveliness when confronted with systems collapse. The Far Woods embody for me, however, a growing movement of creatives who are transforming their radical joy and artistic energy to create images, stories, and tools that help us return to the kind of curious and compassionate spirit at the core of creating new worlds.
As Nina notes:
“We see our work as part of a larger movement to heal our relationship to the Earth and with one another. Everything we make is an effort to participate in a culture shift where that healing can take place. We can feel this culture shift happening around us and in our own hearts—an indicator that it is the zeitgeist right now. This is also evidenced by the groundswell of interest in zero-waste living and the resurgence of interest in mending and plant medicine. The word zeitgeist translates to ‘ghost tide.’ With our work we’re trying to add our energy to this invisible, powerful tide— this groundswell of people who feel the same way about the path we need to be on as a community of humans. We want to stoke the fire, add our flame, keep that energy alive, present, and raw.”
In many ways, Nina and Sonya’s work is asking us to reflect on what we can do to be a part of this “ghost tide.” How can we respond to the despair and deep uncertainty surrounding us with love? How can we cultivate the conditions for creative responses to climate change? How can we transform our art into a tool of activism?
Working through these questions isn’t easy. “It’s really hard to know what’s most important to make next,” Nina says, “or where to put our energy because the challenges of the times all feel incredibly urgent and immense. Often what we choose to make is simply a reflection of where our hearts are at—literally what we are inspired to make at the moment based on something we’re learning about, or a problem we feel compelled to respond to, in hopes that we can contribute, if even just the smallest bit, to its resolution.”
It’s this reflexivity and responsiveness to where we’re at that makes The Far Woods such a dynamic model of compassionate creativity. Although their work exists in conversation with the times, it is rooted in a fundamental spirit of abundance and of hope.
“Hope is implicit in the act of creation. Bringing something into the world implies hope for the future. And action, as Joan Baez so beautifully said, is indeed the antidote to despair. There is so much happening in the world right now that is troubling—it’s hard to know what to do, and it’s incredibly easy to spiral into states of despair, denial, or paralysis. But I really believe in the ability of art to move hearts and minds in a way that other traditional forms of protest and activism cannot. I have a screenprinter friend, Melanie Cervantes, whose mentor once said that everytime he pulls a print it feels like he is sending out a prayer. This really resonates with Sonya and me. When our art goes out into the world it feels like many little prayers going out, or seeds being planted.”
As Sonya and Nina show, our art is a way to both sow the seeds for the future we want to grow into and an opportunity to nurture a reality worth living in. Creative action truly is prayer and by showing up for our muses, we can better channel our vision for the world into tangible changes.
“The idea and practice of prefigurative resistance,” Nina notes, “is really captivating to me; the practice of creating—and living—in the future we want to see. This requires a great deal of imagination, discipline, and creativity. We get so stuck in thinking that the way things are now are the only way they could be, when in fact, things are changing every second. We all have a role in co-authoring the future, and that excites me.”
The Far Woods reflects Loam’s belief that creativity is resistance, prayer, and power. As we reflect on creativity this month, their meditations on arts-as-activism provide a beautiful blueprint for shaping the world we want through a commitment to coming alive through the art we make and hearts we mend.
To learn more about the new worlds that Sonya and Nina are creating, follow the link below. Their artistic approach is so healing and hopeful during these dark days.
a few of the musicians & makers & movers who inspire the far woods
Y LA BAMBA
Fronted by Luz Elena Mendoza, Y La Bamba is a Portland-based indie band that spins sublime soundtracks for nurturing new connections with our emotional, cultural, and ecological landscapes.
ROBIN WALL KIMMERER
PRINT BY THE FAR WOODS
Robin Wall Kimmerer is an indigenous scientist and writer whose body of work draws on diverse wisdoms to shape new realities and seed sacred activist practices.
PRINT BY dylan miner
Dylan Miner is a Wiisaakodewinini artist, activist, and educator whose work supports collective liberation through creative collaboration.