top of page

Natalie Majaba Waldburger

Passive-Aggressive, 2016

Organic wheatgrass, organic soil, biodegradable felt, full-spectrum grow lights


This work is produced on a commission basis. Please press "Inquire" button to contact gallery for details.

$10,000 CDN

Canadian artist Natalie Majaba Waldburger is known for her sculptures and installations that delve into the intricate connections between biology, nature, and human narratives. Her creative practice, characterized by its openness to various disciplines, places a strong emphasis on collaboration, anti-colonial research, critical examination of institutions, and interdisciplinary education. Her work also serves as a powerful vehicle to address vital themes such as sustainability, social justice, and art practices rooted in ecological respect.

In her thought-provoking installation created during an artist-in-residence at the prestigious School of Visual Art in New York, Waldburger utilized local soil and hydroponic felt to cultivate wheatgrass to form a wall-mounted script reading "Passive-Aggressive." The script was installed in an intimate exhibition space and lit by blinding grow lights that rested on the floor. The combination of the sharp spikes of the wheatgrass protruding from the walls, the glaring lights, and the actual ‘naming’ of such a term within a confined space would have elicited surprise and eventual discomfort in viewers. Yet, the element of the green growth from a ‘friendly plant’ reframes the confrontation to seem indirect, making the work itself appear to be passive-aggressive.

Waldburger has also long been interested in the introduction of non-native plant species, like wheatgrass in the late 1800’s. The plant, a popular wellness elixir, speaks to the dichotomy between nutrition and toxicity. Wheat grass as a material embodies many contradictory associations as a nutrient source as well as a symbol of neighbourhood gentrification, which often begins as passive and eventually becomes socio-economically aggressive.

While in New York, Waldburger also considered her position as settler and visitor to the traditional territories of the Lenape (named Delaware Indians by the Europeans). Early colonists came passively and were not considered a threat by the Lenape, who were appreciated for their hospitality and mediation skills. However, colonialism quickly turned aggressive, and Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas were violently displaced and suffered multiple methods of genocide.

Against this backdrop, Waldburger says: “I contemplated the controlled act of reintroducing indigenous plants to the environment meticulously designed into the Highline.” The Highline is an abandoned southern viaduct section of the New York Central Railroad's West Side Line, redesigned as an elevated walking zone and park. Well above ground level, it is the only re-creation of the existing lands and flora that were permanently paved over below it. Peppered with public artworks, it runs along the Hudson River from the Meatpacking District through the north end of Chelsea, both areas that became highly gentrified and home to prominent commercial galleries. It is unlikely that such a beautiful park would have been designed for a disadvantaged neighbourhood.

Given that artists, who were seeking large inexpensive spaces to live and work, unwittingly initiated the gentrification process some 60 years ago, Waldburger reflected on her role as a non-Indigenous artist within the process of cultural erasure and the changes to New York within her own lifetime. Gentrification often mirrors colonial structures – a ‘we-know-better-than-you’ imposition on a neighbourhood, a landscape, a country.

Passive-Aggressive sparks important questions about identity, place, and the intersections of art, history, and colonization. Ultimately, the work is not passive-aggressive – it is a multi-layered work that confronts many ‘elephants in the room’ by speaking to the complexities of interconnection, whether human, environmental, or both.

bottom of page