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This summer, unusual nature poems masquerading as official park signs can be found in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) and the four other Great Lakes national parks at trails, vistas, and beaches as part of the National Park Service (NPS) Centennial celebration.
The Great Lakes Parks Centennial Poetry project is a site-specific public art installation with poetry and the Great Lakes at heart. Iconic brown and white park signs complete with official symbols offer poetic takes on Great Lakes nature, culture, modernity, and identity, in contrast to the normal regulatory information. Texts are by poet Moheb Soliman and signs designed in collaboration with park staff for the NPS Centennial. They also collaborated on sign locations, as the poems speak to special natural or cultural places and experiences such as beaches, hiking, borders, or technology. Park visitors can encounter signs as they tour park destinations at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Isle Royale National Park. At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, visitors will be able to encounter the poetry in Leland and Good Harbor Bay, on South and North Manitou Islands, and on the Bay View Trail. Mr. Soliman will be at the park June 22-25 to assist with the installation and to also present a program on June 24. Please contact the Visitor Center for more details at 231-326-4700, ext. 5010.
Nature poetry has a rich heritage in the United States and is always being redefined for contemporary audiences and contexts. National parks have long partnered with artists through residencies, exhibitions, and public programs to take the subjects of nature, culture, and self and portray and investigate them together in personal, captivating ways for the broad public. The Centennial anniversary of our national parks is an especially fitting moment to expand both of these traditions. The concept behind this project draws inspiration from poetry as a powerful and flexible art form, but also from installation and performance art, which offers unexpected aesthetic and creative experiences and encounters in the everyday world. Park visitors expect signs to be straight-forward, scientific, ecological, and/or historical. Putting poetic content in place of that is a surprising and engaging reversal of their assumptions about what it means to engage with nature in parks, how administrators could perceive nature with us, and how contemporary poetry and art continue to experiment with addressing the natural world.
This project comes out of poet Moheb Soliman's ongoing interdisciplinary project "HOMES;" an acronym for the Great Lakes that serves as an evocative descriptor for these border waters and lands as homes to millions. Most recently through a 2015 Joyce Foundation fellowship, Moheb traced the entire Great Lakes coastline by land, creating new work and partnerships with arts, environmental, native, and other organizations with a stake in the region.
Moheb Soliman is an accomplished poet and artist from Egypt and the Midwest. His poetry practice has led to text-based performance and installation work, commissions for public poetry projects and festivals, and residency awards at such institutions as the Banff Centre and Vermont Studio Center. Other Great Lakes work include a 2013 Pillsbury House grant for the show "A Great Lakes Vista;" a 2014 Northern Spark art festival commission for a participatory installation using an overhead projector and a camping tent; and a 2015 Red Eye Collaboration performance piece with Google Maps. Personally, Soliman’s interest in the Great Lakes comes from growing up around the region with the mythic immigrant trials of assimilation and making home; from reckoning with native, settler, and other narratives of belonging there; and from a desire to identify not only with a nation-state or ethnicity, but a land and waters, and to conceive of how others do so, daily, commonly.