Artist Jorge Manes Rubio contributes to the Nauru Project

The Amazing History of the Republic of Nauru Jorge Mañes new social design project about the island of Nauru reveals one of the saddest and most unbelievable recent histories of what could and should be paradise. This time Mañes has taken his very social approach to design to tackle the fascinating - albeit devastating - history of the little-heard-of island in the South Pacific, Nauru. The project is organized by DIMAD, Madrid’s design association and is being held at the Matadero Cultural Centre. “They asked me to do something about travelling and I immediately thought about Nauru,” Mañes says. “It is an amazing story and hardly anybody has even heard about it.” The result is part fact, part fiction, which reflects the disbelieving reactions Mañes received when trying to share the island’s facts with his family and friends. “Nobody even believed me,” he says. “They didn’t think it could possibly be true. So I have used facts and fantasy to try to encourage people to dig further and find out for themselves just what happened there.” Nauru was once upon a time a true paradise with less than 1000 inhabitants who mostly fished to survive. In the late 19th century the Germans colonized the place. After World War I it became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The Japanese occupied the island during WWII and then the Americans bombed it. In 1968 Nauru finally gained its independence and became a Republic. Thanks to its rich phosphate deposits it was by then the (per capita) richest country in the world. Phosphates come from bird droppings and birds had always migrated to the island in vast numbers. “It was great that the people of Nauru were able to start running their own country and controlling their own resources,” Mañes says, “but the mining was already underway and soon corruption, bad investment decisions and no environmental vision joined forces to create the island’s fate.” Eventually all the natural resources were depleted and the population of 9 000 was left destitute and bankrupt. “It is extraordinary,” Mañes says. “They went from so rich to so poor very quickly. The lesson learned is just how important sustainability really is.” In the exhibition, Mañes presents a diorama, a book and a flag that each play with the viewer’s perception. They flit from seeing the island as a utopia to a disaster area until its fictitious future imagines a once-again paradise overtaken by birds that even have their own flag. Given a second chance the island is run in a less ambitious, more sustainable way. Below is a letter written by a former president of Nauru, Marcus Stephen. It was published in the New York Times. Nauru, 18 July 2011 I forgive you if you have never heard of my country. At just 8 square miles, about a third of the size of Manhattan, and located in the southern Pacific Ocean, Nauru appears as merely a pinpoint on most maps — if it is not missing entirely in a vast expanse of blue. But make no mistake; we are a sovereign nation, with our own language, customs and history dating back 3,000 years. Nauru is worth a quick Internet search, I assure you, for not only will you discover a fascinating country that is often overlooked, you will find an indispensible cautionary tale about life in a place with hard ecological limits. Phosphate mining, first by foreign companies and later our own, cleared the lush tropical rainforest that once covered our island’s interior, scarring the land and leaving only a thin strip of coastline for us to live on. The legacy of exploitation left us with few economic alternatives and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and led previous governments to make unwise investments that ultimately squandered our country’s savings. I forgive you if you have never heard of Nauru but you will not forgive yourselves if you ignore our story. (Flag design together with Gianluca Tesauro)

Peter Hansen contributes an unpublished excerpt from his book 'The Nauruan' to the Nauru Project

Imagine living your first forty years in the twentyone square kilometers of Nauru only to live the next twenty years travelling through the remaining countries of the world. That is what happens to Kinza Kun,the main character in 'The Nauruan' by Swedish author Peter Hansen. Is the world big enough for this Kinza Kun, Elvis Presley, the Pope, a Nepalese goddess and a mysterious man dressed only in white clothes? What happens if you collide with the Wailing Wall? Why should you not eat croissants in Turkey? And how on earth could Kinza float like a butterfly up from a car in Burundi? The Nauruan, a book still looking for a publisher or a sponsor, naturally includes frequent episodes from Nauru. When exploring the world Kinza recalls his homeland and keeps in contact with a friend back home. One day the friend no longer answers the phone…

"En svart noddy seglade högt över havet. Stillahavsön under dess vingar hade tilldelats sina rikedomar av havet och himlen. Avfall som levererats från fåglar, skurar och vågstänk hade förvandlats till fosfat. Det hade utvunnits, exporterats och använts för att få andra länder att gro. I samma veva underminerade Nauru sig självt och riskerade att sjunka i det stigande havets kaos. Samma kaos som hade skapat ön var på väg att förgöra den. Kokosnötter kunde fortfarande exporteras i viss skala men var blott provisoriska livbojar. Kinza Kun kisade i solen. På marken intill honom stod en vattentät ryggsäck. I den fanns kläder, hygienartiklar, en svart bok och en världsatlas som varit en fyrtioårspresent tre veckor tidigare. Inpackade i atlasen låg hans första pass och ett par visumhandlingar. Fem meter framför honom stod en skylt som varnade för att lösspringande kreatur som befann sig på flygremsan vid fel tidpunkt skulle skjutas. Kinza visste att hans lilla ö inte var hela världen. Tiden var kommen att se sig om. Han såg upp på den himmel mot vilken han snart skulle lyfta."

"A black noddy sailed far above the ocean. The Pacific island under its wings had been awarded its wealth by the ocean and the sky. Litter delivered from birds, showers and waves had transformed itself to phosphate. It had been mined, exported and used to make other countries flourish. Meanwhile Nauru undermined itself and increased the risk of going under in the rising chaos of the ocean. The chaos that once created the island was about to destroy it. Coconuts could still be exported at a certain amount but they were merely temporary lifebuoys. Kinza Kun peered in the sunshine. Next to him was a waterproof rucksack. It contained clothes, a toiletry bag, a black book and an atlas that had been a gift for Kinza´s fortieth birthday three weeks earlier. Inside the atlas was Kinza´s first passport and a couple of visa documents. Five meters ahead of him there was a sign telling loose cattle that they would be shot if running around on the airstrip at a bad time. Kinza knew that his little island was not the whole of the world. The time had come to explore. He looked up at the sky towards which he was about to lift."

The author´s email: