Prescribed Fires

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By Elsa Muñoz

Recorded by author

Controlled Burn 13 by Elsa Muñoz


Controlled Burn 9 by Elsa Muñoz


Controlled Burn 16 by Elsa Muñoz


Sahumacion (Controlled Burn 20) by Elsa Muñoz

Artist’s statement:

“Drawing upon a potent childhood memory of encountering a charred post-burn landscape, the Controlled Burn series depicts realistic forest landscapes in the process of receiving prescribed fire. Controlled burning—also called prescribed fire or “good fire”—is an Indigenous practice in which fire is used to maintain the health of a forest, namely by reducing the risk of wildfires, eliminating invasive plant species, and returning nutrients to the soil.

At the primary level this series calls attention to the practice of controlled burning as Indigenous technology that would have largely prevented the catastrophic wildfires we’ve seen in recent history, emphasizing the need to center Indigenous peoples and knowledge in restorative land stewardship efforts. More broadly, I am interested in the possibility that these slowly and meticulously painted landscapes might also become points of meditation to consider not only the ecological cost of suppressing Indigenous earth-based wisdom, but the psycho-spiritual cost as well.

The processes of colonialism and Western scientific progress sought to desacralize the world–removing spirit from matter, severing mind from body and humankind from the natural world–ultimately resulting in a devastating collective soul loss. The implications of such a traumatic loss are vast. This series is an offering toward this wound.

Through painting medicinal fire I seek to make quiet images that provide some psychic space in which to better see the contours of and “stay with the trouble,” ecological and otherwise. “

Elsa Muñoz: I’m a Mexican-American artist born and raised in Chicago. My interest in both nature and healing stem from growing up in an underserved community. Beyond any particular message in my work, I’m always fundamentally seeking to call upon and transmute my earliest encounters with the natural world–imaginary encounters which filled me with wonder and longing. I came upon WTR through my love of Rilke, which then led me to the work of Joanna Macy.

3 thoughts on “Prescribed Fires

  1. Actually all fires have ecological benefits. High severity burn patches are the second most biodiverse forest ecosystem in the western US, after old growth forests. Like the mythological phoenix arising from the ashes of fire, aspen, oaks and many other trees and shrubs quickly re-sprout from roots, wildflowers and grasses cover the soil and buzzing bees, butterflies and beetles fill the air. Pocket gophers and salamanders emerge from their burrows. Deer and elk feast on fresh green shoots. Woodpeckers arrive to nest in charred trees and feed on wood-boring beetles that have flown for many miles, homing in on the fire’s heat or smoke. Fires of all kinds and intensities renew forests by recycling nutrients and creating habitat. It is a misconception to label these fires ‘bad’ and human managed fires ‘good’.

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