Filmmaker – Innovation facilitator – Scientist
Sonja Schenkel, Ph.D. explores the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world. She interweaves mind-sets and hemispheres; contemplation with empathy and activation to explore new relationships between nature and people. She is an artist-scientist, who has been working in either role for sustainable development and climate justice.
Her interest in textiles began by researching shamanic practices in the Andes. Film and textile are kindred souls. They interweave the work of several beings. They transport messages and energy and call us to dream. Yet, they also require different voices, collaboration, and acceptance of what is possible in a certain setting.
Sonja studied at London Film School (2001) and earned a Masters in Cultural Anthropology (2006) from University of Zurich and UNAM, Mexico. Through a growing interest in peace process, she later did a PhD at the Graduate Institute of International Relations and Development (2014) exploring the role of art and creativity in conflicts.
Named a fellow at the Research Center for Leadership in Action at New York University in 2012, Sonja was invited to explore the relationship between leadership, social change and creativity in theoretical and artistic terms. She also led teams of scientist in visualizing their data in over 26 countries and has been teaching on “Bridging Art and Science” at ETH Zurich. Extensive assignments took her to Latin America, East Africa and Asia. Results were showcased and exposed at museums, international conferences, and public events.
In her latest work, she has co-produced an animated documentary on “Brilliant Failure” (2022) with partnering Universities in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Switzerland and Bolivia. During a one-year assignment at Wyss Academy for Nature, she created the “Science Kitchen”, which brought science, art and entrepreneurs to the same table. A creative documentary on buffer zones around natural reserves is currently in post-production. The experience triggered a new project to explore how film may help us to cultivate positive qualities of the mind and empathize with nature.
Click here to learn more about Sonja.
Read on for an exclusive Q&A with Sonja ahead of the Summit:
What does wellbeing mean to you?
In my view, wellbeing has a lot do to with exploring balance. A balance that we re-create and that is never fully ours. It is a flow rather than a state of being. Deeply felt wellbeing probably includes the idea of death and letting go. It is about embracing life in its circular nature and taking a stand to nourish tenderness and beauty despite constant decay and renewal.
Why are you looking forward to being part of The Wellbeing Summit?
I am looking forward to share some of what I learned through the constellation work, that I could experience with the Wellbeing Project. I also think that cultivating inner wellbeing is essential for the global challenges ahead. Hence, it makes me happy and curious to meet the people who seem to think alike but present different approaches.
How does your work connect to wellbeing?
I make sure that my artwork leaves as little material footprint behind as possible. Planetary wellbeing grows as we strengthen our own, inner, human wellbeing. I hope that by meditating in the Force Field, people may add to the contemplative root of the summit. Looking inward and meditating in a semi-public setting not only serves ourselves to keep balance but may bring about peace and a sense of silence for our surrounding. Part of the production process of the “Force Field” consisted in collaborating with refugee women from Syria producing hand-woven carpets to create income and overcome some of the hardships they went through.
When creating monumental sculpture, I consider how our architectural surroundings influence and affect our state of mind.
Art provides a means, and has the power to, access our emotional selves. It makes us more empathetic, it gives us the space to nurture and prosper. Studies have shown how light improves our mood and mental health.
As a medium, it has the ability to bridge cultures and diverse audiences; we all connect to light.