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Rebecca Pfisterer

The global need for palm oil as ingredient for the food-, product- and energy industry is growing exponentially, and Indonesia and Malaysia produce almost 85% of the world market’s palm oil turnover. Meanwhile environmentalists and political activists are warning against the serious ecological and social consequences: the cutting down and burning of rain forests to make way for palm oil monocultures and the social-economic inequalities of local people in relation to multinationals. This means that the habitat of indigenous animals such as orangutans is threatened, while the burning produces massive amounts of CO2.

With her project, Rebecca Pfisterer takes a different perspective, focusing on a neglected aspect of the global palm oil industry. She travelled to Sumatra to meet the people who like so many cogs in a globe-spanning machine are indispensible for making the economy of the plantation industry profitable. Their hard labor, governed by harvesting quota, is remunerated by wages that put civilization to shame. Pfisterer highlights the life of individual workers over the international context of the industry, travelling to Pondok Atas, a small plantation village in the north of Sumatra. There, within the village community, she was able to photograph the workers, their families and social environment during several weeks from morning to nightfall. She was especially interested in their aspirations and wishes (in Indonesian: cita-cita).

In her book Pfisterer translates her experience into a visual narrative on a complex of themes, working with documentary photographs, texts and hand-written personal statements by villagers, adding her own hand-drawn illustrations to her photos.

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